Many years ago a series of terrible murders took place in a hotel. These acts of homicide were executed and filmed by a professor, who was trying to realize a sort of experience concerning reincarnation, but the footage had disappeared. Then, some years later, a horror movie director decides to do a movie about the massacre. As he starts the production, a young actress hired to star the main role is haunted by the souls of the massacre victims.

Nagisa, who is the actress who plays a little girl who was murdered at the hotel believes she is the reincarnation of the little girl until she goes to the place where the little girl died and finds someone else there. When she sees the real reincarnation of the little girl, she realizes she is the reincarnation of the homicidal professor, not one of the victims.

 A director is casting a new film about a murder that took place in a hotel decades ago. Up for the lead are a slew of unknown actresses hoping this is their big break. Nagissa (Yuuka) is an aspiring young actress with no experience under her belt. Yuka Morita (Marika Matsumoto) is a thoroughly batshit actress who begins talking insanely during the interview process ad infinitum about her main qualification for a new film role about a murdered woman being that she was murdered in a past life. My favorite show in the history of television is Dynasty, and my favorite character has always been Claudia, the dramatically sanitarium-bound wife of that lilting creep Matthew Blaisdel, who in the 1981-82 seasons alone managed to attempt suicide a gagillion times, drive off a cliff once or twice, literally lose her daughter, bed down with Steven (Blake Carrington's scandalously gay son), and even get shot, so my artistic instincts say that Yuka should get the part in this new film since ladies who are nutso tend to keep my attention for years on end, making them that much more qualified for a two-hour departure about ghosts. Perhaps wisely, the director chooses Nagissa instead, and once more people who are Claudia-level crazy are relegated to entertain themselves (and me) by driving off of mountains to the crescendo of incidental music.

The movie's plot is pretty straightforward: two storylines, one involving Nagissa, the other involving two university students who are interested in Yuka's past life experiences. There are some scenes of bizarre dreamy quality where things from dreams come into the real world, and everyone on set slowly sees how super creepy this hotel is, and that something just isn't right. I'd wanted to write this synopsis eloquently, but to be fair, it's pretty similar to many other synopses of Takashi Shimizu films, so I'm kind of just doing it ad hoc, and besides the majority of people who are watching this film aren't watching it because of how well I wrote what happens in it. Unto a formulaic strategy of: strange doin's abound, people die, and then a shrill but thoughtful climax leads us into the tense final act.

I'm sure there's a great essay to be written about the concept of "J-Horror" and, more precisely, the almost middle-of-the-road nature of the J-Horror Theater of films, and what it says about the genre ten years after the boom began. I'm not the person to write it though, because I lack the patience to beat dead horses. I am interested, however, to see how this series plays out (the next film in the series being Kiyoshi Kurosawa's critically lauded Retribution), and to see if it overcomes what is, frankly, a pretty mediocre showing to date. All the films are perfectly entertaining and great little mind-numbing nuggets of scare cinema. But halfway through this concept series, one can't help but wonder: what do these films represent? Are they truly the very best in J-Horror? Or are they instead merely ambassadors for an epoch in mediocrity and "sameness" as the catalogue of Japanese horror films expands alongside the marketability of the genre abroad; that is, do they rightfully reflect how watered-down the genre seems to be becoming? I'm not sure, and I don't feel myself either informed or scholarly (or pretentious) enough to espouse beliefs one way or the other. But I know very plainly what people had hoped this series would bring with it, and what they instead received. Them's the breaks.

Takashi Shimizu's history is mixed at best in terms of critically-appreciated filmmaking, but I won't deny that he has an eye for the type of scares that casual and broad audiences want to see, and that's hard to own up to without watering down subjects and simplifying storylines (simple being a word I don't think he understands). But that mass appeal sometimes seems to hold him in perpetuity in a land of near-derivative output. He's made a couple of truly excellent films: kooky
Marebito, and the surprisingly chilling Ju-On: The Grudge 2, both attest to his ability to really put thought, intelligence, and fresh (and sometimes borderline bonkers) ideas into a genre that is increasingly getting played out internationally. But aside from one or two features in his back catalogue, the vast majority of his films rely on similar storylines and (gratingly) similar techniques.


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Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Produced by Kazuya Hamana,
Takashige Ichise
Written by Takashi Shimizu,
Masaki Adachi
Starring Yuka,
Keppei Shiina
Shun Oguri
Music by Kenji Kawai
Distributed by Toho Company Ltd.
Release date(s) 2005
Running time 95 mins.
Language Japanese






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