A con man meets up with an old woman at a bar, in an unusual assignation. He called her pretending to be her relative and asked to borrow some money -- a common scam in Japan -- and she agreed to meet him.
The old woman is sweet and guileless and seems to be taken in by the scam. But she insists on her "relative" having a drink, and as their conversation goes on, she reveals she has an agenda -- and secret -- of her own.
Written and directed by Noboru Suzuki, this supremely stylish horror short is essentially a meeting of the generations. It takes as its jumping point a sadly common scam tactic in Japan, where a long-lost son, daughter or relative contacts an elderly person and asks for money. But through a clever twist on vampire mythology, it becomes a visually stunning meditation on the richness of the past, the forgetfulness of modernity and what is restored when a connection between the two is restored.
The storytelling exists in a heightened register, where mystery and emotion are pumped up and the artistry is highly stylized. Beautifully photographed and lit, the film manages to coolly gleam even with its darkened bar setting, conveying an unsettling atmosphere that's both timeless and otherworldly at once. Within this isolated realm, the con man sits down with his target, though we quickly realize that he's met his match.
Most films would spend much of their time building up to the old lady's reveal as an ancient vampire as a clever twist, but instead, it chooses to explore what it means to become a vampire at such an old age and to exist for so long as an elderly person in the world. As the elderly vampire, actor Mayumi Amano offers a captivating, remarkable performance, easily conveying a charming, even adorable demeanor that's deliciously undercut with a glint of sly, trickster-y knowingness. But she also hints at the weight of existing so long with mistakes and regrets -- and is taking this unexpected opportunity to rectify one of them, much to the con man's surprise.
The final movement of "Incarnation" is full of other revelations, some of which are revealed quickly and build rapidly upon one another into a crescendo of transformation. It's enough to leave viewers breathless, both with the quickening narrative pulse and with the richly imagined take on the supernatural that unravels in a tantalizing reveal. Many will want to rewatch the film again to pick out the clues that may have passed by them earlier -- and to enjoy the sheer cinematic pleasure of a film rooted in a deep respect of classical heritage and mythology, but audacious enough to weave its distinctive vision with it.