It's the third in the J-Horror Theater series, but more importantly it's written and directed by Mr Grudge, Takashi Shimizu. In between directing approximately 10000000 movies based on his Ju-on franchise, he took a little time off to knock out this comparatively understated film. His better-known films simply charge full steam ahead for ninety minutes with every kind of killer oogie-boogie they can think of. Reincarnation is perhaps more typical of Japanese cinema. It's slower. It's a bit more reflective. It's almost akin to science-fiction in that it's all about leading you towards the explanation of its impossibilities, which when it comes ties together as neatly as a good detective story.
As the title suggests, it's about reincarnation. This isn't something that's as plugged into the Western consciousness, since it's not part of Christianity as it is in Buddhism. We're aware of the concept, but it's seen as the preserve of cranks and forteans. Admittedly most Japanese people don't believe in Shinto or Buddhism any more than I do, but it's still part of the culture. The name on someone's gravestone in Japan isn't the name they used in life, for instance. It's a Buddhist thing, the cycle of rebirth. It thus shouldn't be too surprising that a few Westerners don't seem to have realised which characters used to be which other characters in their former lives, although they must be exceptionally stupid Westerners since the concept is hammered home at length both in the dialogue and in the small matter of the film's title.
It begins in a very Grudge-ish fashion, with random weirdness and people with grey-blue faces who appear and disappear without warning. Those masks in the night are particularly freaky. That's what I initially took them to be, anyway. I was quite enjoying this, but I'm also glad that it's only the pre-credits sequence and that the main film slows down into something that isn't just Shimizu's usual schtick. The chief point of similarity is the child. There's a big-eyed child who'll pop up out of nowhere, just like Toshio. The only difference is her gender. She even carries around a doll, just like Toshio's cat.
Turning to the living cast, the main character is an beginning actress who gets cast in the lead role in a J-horror movie. Yup, we're watching a movie about the making of a movie. Arguably the inner film isn't technically horror, but it's certainly not a romantic comedy. Her director wrote his script about a real murder case from 1970, which needless to say was before she was born. Eleven people were slaughtered in a hotel by a man who then committed suicide. Before long our heroine is screaming and fainting for the cameras like a professional, although on the downside she's also seeing The Girl, having strange objects turn up in her bed and occasionally disappearing.
Other characters include a wacky wannabe actress who knows from the start that she was murdered in her previous life and will happy say so to anyone on the slightest provocation. She's fun. Then there's a college student who's following this up and has been seeing bad things, just like the main character, Nagisa.
On a technical level, it looks exactly as you'd expect. The cinematography is great, it has a funky zombie reenactment and there's clever use made both of 1970s film stock and home cine footage. Given the nature of the story, a lot of the time we're looking at multiple versions of the same events, one in the present day and one a lot earlier. This could have been confusing as hell and killed the film. Shimizu deserves praise for ensuring that I always felt I knew what I was looking at, even when I knew I was missing a lorry-load of explanations. I didn't like the CGI morphs, though. They just look like CGI morphs. There's nothing scary about them, instead coming across as cheap and obvious. Seeing someone else's face in the mirror at the beginning could have been a terrifying moment had it been subtle enough to sneak up on us unawares, but instead you just go, "Oh, CGI."
Overall, I liked it. I particularly appreciate the fact that it's not dreary and depressing, but manages to have a bit of life to it when nine times out of ten, such a film might have just felt as if I was watching a bunch of losers heading for their doom. The ending also felt quite clever, albeit not that dramatic. The film doesn't strike me as anything I'd go out and especially recommend, but I also never felt it was stretching my patience or anything. Basically it's J-horror to the tips of its bloodstained broken fingernails and conforms to the stereotypes. If you like J-horror, by all means check this out. If you think the genre's been mined to death, this won't change your mind.