Takashi Shimizu made the scariest movie I've ever seen, so I was pretty stoked to watch Reincarnation.
In 1970, while on holiday with his wife and children, Professor Omori snapped and murdered 11 people, including his son and daughter. Thirty-five years later, Ikuo Matsumura is making a movie about the hotel massacre. He casts Nagisa as Omori's daughter but while she prepares for the role, Nagisa begins to experience some strange things. She starts seeing the ghost of the dead little girl and begins phasing in and out of reality, finding herself transported back to the hotel on the day of the murders. Meanwhile, Yayoi is conducting research on memory and reincarnation. She meets another young woman who believes she is the reincarnation of one of Omori's murder victims, and her research leads her first to Mrs. Omori, the sole survivor, and then to the hotel. There she confronts the past, while at the same time Nagisa comes to learn the truth about her ghostly experiences.
Reincarnation is about, well, reincarnation, but also memory. It suggests that memory and experience are created by people but they also exist seperate from us and can transcend time. For western audiences these ideas are best summed up by the adage "the key to immortality is remembrance". But the film posits that people are also vessels for memory, that memories have a lifeforce of their own that can possess our bodies. Can we equate this with the soul? I don't know; the movie makes no comment on the nature of souls.
In Reincarnation, the memories of the 11 murder victims inhabit the bodies of people in the present, some of whom are aware of their past lives while others are not. Haunted by the ghosts of the past, each living victim succumbs to their repressed memory and they eventually die, taking their place in the hotel which functions kind of like the Overlook--a gathering point or crossroads between the human world and the ghost world.
Common to a lot of J-horror are the themes of ghostly vengeance and justice. In Reincarnation, the Omori girl's doll is a vessel for the little girl's angre and represents her restless soul. The film, however, stops short of suggesting that forgiveness is divine and an avenged soul will find peace in the afterlife. Rather, Reincarnation promotes the wholly depressing idea that the dead cannot be avenged.
The film refuses to comment on good and evil, but prefers instead to muse on the nature of innocence. If we are possessed by the lifeforce of a murder are we innocent of his crimes? And if we were his victim in a past life, are we doomed to repeat the cycle? Again, to phrase it for western audiences, will history really set us free?
Takashi Shimizu thinks not.