Yet another Takashi Miike movie for your consideration. Now when you read a review of Miike’s work, you’ll often see him described as a J-Horror director. The truth is though, whilst he may often deal with somewhat extreme visuals and ideas, for a guy who has directed getting on for 100 movies, he has rarely done anything that could be labelled Horror. The director himself refuses to call “Audition” a horror film (I would disagree to some extent), and the shorter films “Imprint” (from the “Masters of Horror” TV show) and “Box” (part of “Three… Extremes”) certainly have some unsettling subjects and imagery but are certainly not traditional horror. Only “One Missed Call”, a fairly mainstream “Ringu”-inspired piece could be easily pigeonholed into the Horror genre. So I was rather interested to see he had made his own adaptation of Yotsuya Kaidan (The Ghost Story of Yotsuya). It’s an honest to goodness ghost story, that has been adapted a large number of times. Shall we see what Miike does with this?
So, in “Over Your Dead Body”, we are actually watching the rehearsals of a theatrical performance of the play. The plot mainly centres on the troubled relationship of Miyuki (Shibasaki Kō), a popular actress, and her fellow co-star Kosuke (Ichikawa Ebizō XI). The pair are clearly in a sterile and unfulfilling coupling, with Miyuki desperate to have a child, and Kosuke having a wandering eye. We start to see the themes of the play and the characters that the actors are playing have an impact on the real world, until the boundaries between real life, the play and eventual madness combine into a bloody conclusion.
I have tried to compress that synopsis into as concise a morsel as possible. I think it helps to know the story of Yotsuya Kaidan to make certain things clear. In short it is about an ambitious but rudderless Samurai called Iemon who marries a woman called Oiwa, but is then encouraged to marry another, younger girl to progress his career. He is then implicit in Oiwa’s disfigurement and eventual death, who then becomes the archetypal vengeful ghost. And I really do mean archetypal, Oiwa can be seen as the blueprint for pretty much every long haired female spirit in Japanese entertainment culture, all the way up to Sadako.
In terms of mood and pace, this is a film that probably matches “Audition” in terms of construction. The first half of the film is slow and sterile, with any characterisation and relationships being developed through looks and actions rather than verbal communication. In fact, the real star of the first half of the film is the magnificent rotating stage that the play is being performed on. Miike has a theatrical pedigree, so the whole set up does feel authentic. I am surprised how many reviewers seemed confused by the ‘audience’ sitting at desks, this is just the rehearsal stage, and this isn’t an audience as such, but more the performers and creative/technical staff attempting to put the play together.
Halfway through the film and something happens. It only really becomes clear at the conclusion, but the blurring of the different realities at play here becomes more obvious and somewhat confusing. Things get bloodier in the real world, and the staged nature of the theatrical scenes being enacted slowly become more like that of a film. It is hard to follow, but for my money it is totally worth the effort.
Shibasaki Kō gives a measured and assured performance, her opening moments of coldness are placed in stark contrast with her later self-immolation (the hardest part of the film to stomach) and eventual exposure of her true mental state. Ichikawa Ebizō XI is more challenging to judge. He is more famous as a Kabuki actor than a cinematic one, and there is something rather unsettling about his screen presence that I personally found actually rather endearing. He is playing a cad who is acting the part of an even bigger cad… so whilst I don’t want to empathise with him, I did find that his mix of isolated cool detachment gave me a grounding when things in the film started to get weirder
Eventually though this do get strange and bloody. The scene of self-immolation that I mentioned earlier is up there with anything more graphic Miike has given screen-life to. Maybe the final decapitation doesn’t have quite the same level of realism, but I really enjoyed the escalation of madness. Also, my usual complaint of a Miike film being 30 minutes too long doesn’t apply here – at a touch over 90 minutes, this one actually felt just about right. It looks great too.
I really adored this film. I didn’t mind the slow pace to start with. I enjoyed the messing around with different layers of reality. I enjoyed the eventual bloody mess. If you liked “Audition” and are willing to do a little bit of heavy lifting – then I think this is one of Miike’s top 10 films ever. Highly Recommended.