The Film (4/5)
Takashi Miike is one easily one of my favorite directors of all time. Like the late, great Jess Franco, he is wildly prolific and has a unique style all his own. When I saw that Shout! Factory was releasing another one of his titles, I couldn’t have been more excited. While I don’t love everything he does, I always get to see something masterfully directed or at the very least, wildly bizarre, when I check in on this weird dude’s work.
Here’s the bare minimum of the plot because I don’t want to risk spoiling anything. While rehearsals for a lavish production of the famous Japanese ghost story, Yotsuya Kaidan*, are under way, lead actress Miyuki (Ko Shibasaki) suspects that her boyfriend and fellow actor Kosuke (Ebiz˘ Ichikawa), is having an affair with a younger actress. As the storyline of the play grows darker, so does Miyuki’s obsession with keeping Kosuke by any means necessary.
Miike could easily pull off a film version of Yotsuya Kaidan and judging by his work directing theatre productions I’ve read about, he could just as easily do a stage production. In Over Your Dead Body, he kind of does both. He uses the framework of the old ghost story to blend his main characters’ descents into madness and nightmares with very pleasing results. The grotesque and over-the-top setpieces -with a dash of body horror thrown in for good measure- will make fans of horror manga very happy.
Screenwriter Kikumi Yamagishi also worked on Miike’s classic horror musical comedy hybrid, The Happiness of the Katakuris, and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. He’s a talented guy for sure but something is missing from Over Your Dead Body and I don’t know if it’s his writing, Miike’s direction, or Kenji Yamashita’s editing.
My biggest criticism of Over Your Dead Body is also a high compliment from me; I wish the film had been longer. Had there been just a bit more attention paid to the characterization of the actors in the play, this would be a stone cold classic. Their motivations and personalities are just too simple for me.
*A great deal of the plot points of Yotsuya Kaidan is covered in Over Your Dead Body. I recommend the Wiki page to see what it’s all about or check out Nobuo Nakagawa's 1959 adaptation if you can find it.
The film is presented in 2.40:1 in 1080p and looks great! The dark scenes, which there are a lot, look really good and the colors everywhere else are extremely vibrant. There are three audio options with the original Japanese language in either 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD. I went with the 5.1 and everything sounded excellent. The atmosphere of the soundtrack is suffocating and the score by the always reliable K˘ji End˘ is pretty damn cool; both are serviced well by this disc. The English dub is also in 2.0 but I only listened to it enough to know I didn’t like the voice acting.
The almost total lack of extras on this disc is a little disheartening. Other than a trailer for Over Your Dead Body, there’s nothing on the disc. And it’s not even the Japanese trailer! This is the kind of film that begs for interviews with the writer and/or the director, especially when it’s being marketed for western audiences who might just be baffled by this one. Some history behind Yotsuya Kaidan would have been very helpful!
The dark beauty of the horror elements and the lavish spectacle of the play within the movie would mean even more if Miyuki, Kosuke, and the rest weren’t so thinly written. That being said, the film is loaded with enough style, scares, and Miike’s own brand of weirdness to make it worth your time. Recommended.