Takashi Shimizu’s ‘Rinne’: When Tragedy, Reincarnation, and Latent Memories Combine Into the Stuff of Ghost Stories

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Many of us wonder if, after we die, will we return in another life? Less often, though no less significantly, do we wonder if the person we are today is the reincarnation of someone who died before we were born. Different cultures and religions regard the possibility of returning to life in this world in ways that reflect the fundamental beliefs and values of those peoples and traditions. I think for many Americans the fantasy of reincarnation is contingent on the desire to somehow continue enjoying the material wealth they are enjoying presently. However, for many ancient traditions, usually non-Western, returning to this world means returning to life as suffering.

In Takashi Shimizu’s 2005 film Rinne (Reincarnation), Professor Norihasa Omori (Atsushi Haruta) took his family to a hotel, where he filmed himself killing eleven people, including his two children, then himself, because he was obsessed with the idea of “cryptomnesia” and its relation to reincarnation. Thirty-five years later, film director Ikuo Matsumura (Kippei Shiina), renowned for his gory filmmaking style, decides to make a film inspired by the decades-old mass murder. Indeed, one can say that Matsumura, similar to Prof Omori, has developed his own obsession. As he nurtures his project from script to screen you see him surrounding himself with newspaper clippings about the killings, including images of the victims and their killer. In addition, Matsumura obtains a relic of this tragedy from the lone survivor, who happens to be Professor Omori’s widow (Miki Sanjo), who will play a catalytic role in the last act of Shimizu’s movie.

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Photo credit: David Martínez

What Rinne is ultimately about is the memory that inhabits places, especially where epic tragedies occurred. In the case of Matsumura’s film, he insists on taking his actors and crew to the long-abandoned hotel where the murders took place. Once there and filming begins, the memories of that place are reignited, as actors slowly become the massacre victims they are portraying. Most poignantly, the actress in the lead role, Nagisa Sugiura (Yūka), is assigned to play Professor Omori’s daughter. At this juncture, Nagisa begins seeing strange shadowy strangers, including a little girl who turns out to be Professor Omori’s daughter, Chisato (Mao Sasaki). But is what is happening real or is it simply that Nagisa is undergoing a mental breakdown. Can filming the recreation of a mass murder bring back the dead? Or is it the hotel and the people killed there who are bringing in Matsumura and his collaborators, above all Nagisa?

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Photo credit: David Martínez

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Photo credit: David Martínez

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Photo credit: David Martínez

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