Showing posts with label Ghost. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ghost. Show all posts

Friday, June 5, 2009

Reincarnation (aka Rinne) (2005)

You really have to admire Takeshi Shimizu. The bastard simply doesn't give up.

A while ago in my review of The Executioner (1974), I briefly rehashed the efforts of Teruo Ishii to sabotage his own career in martial arts movies in order to return to directing detective movies.

Such doesn't appear to be the case with Shimizu. It's been slightly over a decade since the rest of the world was single-handedly introduced to the onryō genre via a gentleman named Hideo Nakata.

He directed a little film called Ring (1998) that some of you out there might remember.

Since then, the onryō genre has nearly been done to death in Japan, as well as Korea and the United States. Despite all of this, Shimizu still manages to find ways to add new spin to the angry ghost formula, find pleasure in his work, and smile all the way to the bank.

Rinne seems to draw inspiration from everything from Stephen King's The Shining, to Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994), and damn near every onryō movie before it.

Onryō movies aren't onryō movies if there is no sinister foreplot, so Shimizu sets the stage for Act I by placing us smack dab near the end of a spree killing taking place in a creepy hotel committed by an unhinged college professor named Kazuya Omori (Shun Oguri).

Omori's psychotic bloodlust claims eleven victims including his own daughter and in the usual fashion, Omori tops the incident off by taking his own life.

We then flash forward in time about fourty years. To our dread, we discover that famed and fictional movie director, Ikuo Matsumura (Kippei Shiina), feels inspired to create a dramatic horror-mentary (for lack of an equivelent term) of the murders so that the memories of the victims won't be lost in time.

A matter of further concern is that Matusumura wants to film this project at the very hotel where the slayings took place took place.

I don't think Mr. Matsumura could've had a worse idea in his head if he tried.

As the first day of the film shoot draws near, Nagisa Sugiura (Yuka), the actress set to play Omori's daughter in the film within this film, begins to have strange visions.

These visions turn out to be yurei; spirits who find themselves tasked to warn us when something awful is about to happen in the realm of the living. This particular group of yurei is (not surprisingly) composed of the eleven victims of Omori's hotel massacre.

For Nagisa and the rest of Matsumura's film crew, something wicked this way comes.

Some people may remember Rinne as one of the members of the After Dark Horrorfest Class of 2006, or one of three film that were actually worth dying for out of the original "8 Films (allegedly) Worth Dying For."

(The others being The Abandoned (2006) and the mildly spooky The Gravedancers (2006))

Rinne is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise overdone genre as it seamlessly interweaves a mystery story within a traditional ghost story not terribly unlike Guillermo del Toro's supernatural epic, The Devil's Backbone (2001), but without the stinging social commentary.

Rinne has no aspirations other than being an entertaining film and it succeeds at that rather handily.

Those with a steady diet of J-Horror will probably see the plot twists coming a mile away, but the last fifteen minutes of this film will have even seasoned (and probably jaded) horror buffs admiring the story progression and saying, "Oh shit, I didn't expect that to happen!"

To explain any more or go into further detail really would ruin the rather clever hooks that this movie will sink into your nerve endings, so I enthusiatically urge anyone reading this blog to check out this movie if they haven't already done so.

Shimizu really does do a lot more with a lot less, so perhaps it is indeed true what they say about big budgets being a negative catalyst when it comes to Asian horror?

(or horror in general, after viewing the awesomeness of Sam Raimi's shoestring budget epic Drag Me To Hell (2009) last weekend.)

The contrast between a movie like this and the Hollywood re-imagings of the various Ring movies certainly do seem to indicate that it is nigh impossible to focus on the subtle when your current film budget nearly dwarfs the combined budgets of your entire catalogue of previous work.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Empire of Passion (1978)



A torrid affair between the young Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji) and an older housewife, Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), rages out of control. When their erotic play goes too far, the couple find themselves painted into a corner. At Toyoji’s urging, the two hatch a scheme to murder Seki’s husband, Gisaburo, by getting him drunk and strangling him. Soon, Toyoji becomes obsessed with scattering dry leaves into the well where Gisaburo’s corpse is hidden, and the rumours coming from the village’s gossipy women begin to get under Seki’s skin. It isn’t long before the ghost of Gisaburo appears in Seki’s home, tormenting her and her lover…



Set in a rural village in 1895 Japan, Nagisa Oshima’s Empire of Passion is the director’s follow-up to the notorious In the Realm of the Senses, an explicit and controversial film decried as pornography and still banned in several countries. Obviously such a film would be hard to outdo, and so Oshima cuts back on the explicit sex (though there is still that) and focuses on a more traditional ghost story.

The power of the connection between Seki and Toyoji is established early in the film. The affair properly begins when Toyoji forces himself upon Seki. In what looks like a fairly blatant case of chauvinist storytelling, Toyoji overpowers Seki, violently raping her. After that, they’re a couple, bonded by their mutual physical attraction. Those who wish to cast a generous eye towards Oshima will note that Seki’s character is older and very restrained by her position in life, especially as a woman in feudal Japan. Perhaps force was necessary on the part of Toyoji to get past those defences which were set up by society, and not by Seki’s true feelings. Once breached, they are free to share their mutual love, even if that first contact required violence.

Or maybe it’s just misogynistic bullshit. Either way, the initial sex act is followed by a few more, each one rendered fairly explicitly (if nowhere near the ballpark of In the Realm of the Senses).


Be warned: if you’re approaching this film because you’re looking for a scare, you’re going to be sorry. Though this is a ghost film, it’s not the sort typical to America, and it certainly isn’t like the current crop of J-horror. This is a rural ghost, who acts more like a being out of old wives’ tales or folk legend. Gisaburo haunts his wife and Toyoji, to be sure, but he acts as a symbol of their guilt, a constant reminder of their crime rather than a vengeful demon or poltergeist.

Empire of Passion isn’t a very fast paced film, and I found that the first two acts dragged a bit, unraveling in a fairly predictable way. Fortunately, the last act of the film really turns up the thrills, adding a few chilling visuals that might not make you jump, but will probably make you shudder. It certainly helps that Oshima was a director with an eye for composing a striking scene.


The Criterion Collection disc of Empire of Passion contains a few special features to interest the curious. Perhaps most helpful was the “video essay” by Concordia University’s Catherine Russell, comparing Empire of Passion with In the Realm of the Senses. The video essay is a good idea, since often a full, scholarly audio commentary is unnecessary, and 20 minutes or so is enough for Russell to explain Oshima’s (naïve) belief in the liberatory power of female sexuality. Interviews with the two lead actors and production consultant Koji Wakamatsu (director of the brilliantly titled Go Go Second Time Virgin) are nice bonuses, but probably won’t add a whole lot to anyone’s appreciation of the film.

Empire of Passion is a fine film, no doubt, but unless there’s something in particular that draws you to the film--the explicit sex, the director, the ghost story--it’s nothing that anyone needs to rush out and see.