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A region 2 DVD review of REINCARNATION / RINNE by Slarek
 

To the horror fans out there, see if the following rings any bells.

A film production company decides that it is going to make a movie recreating the events of a particularly nasty massacre that took place at an isolated rural hotel a few years earlier, and an actress who has been cast in a key role begins having visions of the real murder victims. These intensify when the director takes his young cast to the actual location of the killings, now run down and long-since abandoned, in order that they soak up the atmosphere and get a better feel for their roles. Anyone like to guess what happens next?

OK, maybe you haven't come across this exact premise, but I'll lay money that there were a few nods of recognition at the above. It is the way of horror movies that people always go willingly to places that the audience knows they should stay away from, and on the list of "Please Don't Go There" locations, the site of a series of brutal murders must rank pretty high. But if you found that familiar, it doesn't end there. The isolated hotel with a dark history inevitably recalls The Shining, the ghosts of the departed have more than a touch of George Romero about them, and the little girl who appears to the in-film production's leading lady Sugiura can't help but feel like the latest in a series of creepy children that have populated J-horror films in recent years.

But in the hands of Ju-On: The Grudge director Shimizu Takashi, what the film loses in over-familiarity it quickly claws back in unsettling atmosphere and eerie imagery. Repeatedly we get exactly what horror (and particularly J-horror) film convention leads us to expect, but more often than not it is given just enough of a twist to still get the skin crawling. This expected/unexpected style is set up early in the film, as a night-time lorry driver brakes just too late to avoid the immobile hotel porter standing strangely in the middle of the road. When the driver descends from his cab, there is (inevitably) no-one there, but when he checks under the lorry the victim is lying on the ground, staring accusingly at him. Worse still, when he looks up at the atmospherically wind-swept trees by the roadside, a series of ghoulish faces are visible floating in the darkness. Just this one sequence has prompted a wide-eyed reaction from everyone I've so far shown it to.

A similar approach is taken to Sugiura's first encounter with the ghostly young girl, the victim on whom her role in the film is based (the in-film director's decision to change the age of this character could be read as a comment on the way filmmakers 'adapt' events and characters to better target the film's potential demographic, but of course also allows Shimizu himself to do the very same thing). Her first glimpse of the girl in a crowded train follows the usual 'see her, get distracted, turn back and she's gone' formula, but when she reappears she is no longer further down the carriage, but right up close and mingling with alighting passengers, then dropping down between the train and the platform and staring up at Sugiura from the darkness below. A further link with past genre films is provided by the oversized doll the girl carries around with her, a typically odd-looking creature that you just know is going to start moving on its own sooner or later. When it does, however, the effect is still pleasingly disturbing, and later, as it marches down a corridor towards the camera, nightmarishly surreal.

Reincarnation [Rinne] is stalked by déjà-vu and feels at times as if criteria are being ticked off on the J-horror checklist. But the film nonetheless pulls off some very effective frissons of chilling horror, and builds rather nicely to a climax in which the line between the normal and paranormal worlds gradually collapses. There are some superficial similarities to Shimizu's earlier Ju-On: The Grudge 2, which is also centred around the production of a horror film at a haunted location, and features the sort of child you would not want to encounter late at night and a lead actress troubled by the spirits of the dead. But Reincarnation takes the concept a stage further through the discovery that the killings were captured on film by the murderer himself. It's a concept that provides a nice parallel at the climax, as a sequence is watched for real in one location and recreated for entertainment in another, throwing up some interesting questions about the whole nature of "it really happened" horror outings, and the debate over how we view documentary footage as opposed to that we know to be fiction.

Ju-On 2 raises its own questions, of course, and the earlier film remains the more structurally complex of the two (and will probably be the more widely seen), but for my money Reincarnation is, despite its faults, the scarier and more satisfying work.

sound and vision

It has to be said that J-horror has often been ill served on UK DVD, with transfers often falling some considerable way short of those of American or even European films (Premiere Asia's upcoming release of Ju-On: The Grudge 2 is another example of this). In this respect Reincarnation is a pleasant surprise, a largely decent transfer with noticeably better contrast, colour and detail than the sub-standard norm. There is some faint picture noise visible and a faint flicker to some of the scenes (usually interiors), but this is never really distracting, and could be the result of shooting on Hi-Def rather than film – I don't know for sure that this is the case, but the framing is the high def standard of 1.78:1 rather than the 1.85:1 of film. The picture is, as you'd expect, enhanced for widescreen TVs.

The three soundtracks available are the usual Tartan Dolby 2.0 stereo, Dolby 5.1 surround and DTS surround. The mix on the 5.1 and DTS tracks is very much part of the film's atmosphere, and surrounds and LFE are well used, as is the volume range – the old trick of suddenly amplifying an ordinary sound to make you jump is effectively used, though given an amusing twist, with the usual telephone ring replaced by the vibration buzz of a mobile.

extra features

Not much here. The only one that really counts is the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:18), the ever-present Trailer Reel more an add for other Tartan DVD releases, although this does mean trailers for Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, Three Extremes, Infection and Premonition.

summary

I know some have been getting a little weary of J-horror of late, but done well it still knocks the spots off of anything escaping from the US at the moment, and for all its borrowings Reincarnation is certainly a well executed (no pun intended) and atmospheric piece that really does get under your skin. It's also good to see Takashi Shimizu in non-Ju-On mode before he completes work on the Japanese Ju-On: The Grudge 3. Tartan's DVD is pretty much a film-only affair, but the transfer is better than expected and the sound really delivers.

 


The Japanese convention of surname first has been used for all Japanese names in this review.

Reincarnation
Rinne

Japan 2005
95 mins
director
Shimizu Takashi
starring
Yûka
Karina
Shiina Kippei
Sugimoto Tetta
Oguri Shun
Matsumoto Marika
Koichi Mantarô

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1
languages
Japanese
subtitles
English
extras
Trailers
distributor
Tartan
release date
21 August 2006
review posted
23 September 2004

See all of Slarek's reviews