From the filmmaker that pretty much single-handedly jump started the onryō (J-Horror) sub-genre of horror films, comes a slight variation on your traditional ghost story film. The film opens with a series of strange events happening to a select few people which include a school girl, a business man at lunch, and a truck driver. In Shimizu's style of making the freaky random scare tactics work, the beginning probably sets the tone for the film, but as we find out more of the story, it really doesn't matter to the crux of the film.
"Rinne" is the third entry in the J-Horror film series headlined by producer Takashige Ichise. The film proper begins with an audition for a horror film by a famed director named Matsumura. In a room full of actresses, one of them tries to convince the filmmakers she's fit for a role because she feels she has lived before and this horror film is familiar territory to her. Matsumura glares at another actress in the room, Nagisa Sugiura (Yûka) and dismisses them. Later on, Nagisa and her agent discuss her chances in the film on a train, when she notices a little girl with a doll. The train opens to the platform, and when Nagisa rushes toward her, she next sees her underneath the platform before the train leaves.
Not long later, Nagisa's agent tells her that the events of the film are based on a true story. Back in the 1970s a Professor named Kazuya Omori (Shun Oguri) murdered eleven people in the "Ono Kanaka Hotel", including his own wife and two kids; a son and a daughter. He even recorded the murder spree with an 8mm camera. Meanwhile, the director meets with an old woman, who gives him a box apparently connected to the real life murders. When he opens the box, he is visited by the mysterious little girl as well, though unknowingly, and quickly sends off a copy of the script to Nagisa. The next day, her agent gives Nagisa a copy of the script, and the ghostly girl with the doll once again appears to her. At a pre-production meeting for the film, the filmmakers discuss their plans with the cast and crew, and hand out the roles to the cast explaining who their real life counterparts were. The director gives Nagisa the part of the professor's own daughter, Chisato Omori, which is the exact same little ghostly girl Nagisa has been having visions of.
A college girl, Kinoshita, has very similar hallucinations, and confides in her boyfriend about having a recurring dream in a hotel she's never been to before. When researching her paper on the phenomenon of cryptomnesia, her boyfriend hooks her up with another girl (named interestingly enough Yûka, the actress who talked of reincarnation in the beginning of the film) who has been experiencing reincarnation episodes herself. Meanwhile, filming begins on the horror film "Memories", and during a scene Nagisa sees the ghost of the murderous professor. The filmmakers also decide to film the movie at the actual "Ono Kanaka Hotel" where the murders occurred. Nagisa's hallucinations begin to worsen as she not only observes the ghosts, but they reenact the tragic events. When the director actually finds the ball of the murdered son, he goes looking for Nagisa himself.
At this point, Yûka explains to Kinoshita how she gets information of her memories and possible memories of a past life. Yûka takes her to the library where she has done research on her past life, revealing she was a victim in the hotel murders. Kinoshita instantly discovers the "Ono Kanaka Hotel" is the very same location of her own recurring dreams. Unfortunately, Yûka becomes another victim of Chisato's doll, which now appears to have become animated on its own. Meanwhile, Nagisa continues to be tormented by her visions of Chisato and her doll, which are becoming one and the same. Nagisa questions Matsumura on his reasons for doing the film and he only shows her the doll that the old woman gave him as research for his film. Kinoshita, however, visits the old woman herself, and finds out that the professor may not have been insane, but was conducting a study of his own on the possibility of reincarnation. Thus, kinda explaining the purpose of him going on a murder spree, because of his strong belief that they would return, which goes on to explain the opening of the film. All the random people seen in the opening are the eleven spirits returning inside new bodies. Both Nagisa and Kinoshita discover the horrific ramifications first hand of the professor's experiment.
According to Shimizu, he deliberately wanted to make a film that was different from other J-Horror films, and he most certainly did so. The idea is original, but in that it is not a horrific as one conditioned to the genre would expect. This film kinda takes its inspiration from Stephen King's (or more specifically Kubrick's film version) "The Shining" with a little bit of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series entry "New Nightmare". For me it kinda feels more like Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" which King drew inspiration for "The Shining" in the first place. This is one of the better entries of the J-Horror series as it completely attempts to reinvent the horror sub-genre. Shimizu also appears to have developed a style and verve to his film making powers, and I like the use of changing film stock in scenes where the Nagisa character goes into a hallucinatory flashback. Keep a look out for a fun little cameo, as J-Horror director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa "Kairo" (Pulse) plays a professor in one scene. The hotel is interestingly enough named "Ono Kanaka", which by my very rough translation is interpreted "eternity sight-seeing". A nice summation of the film's theme, and let's hope Shimizu improves as a director.