The ghost story is a recurring theme of the horror genre all over the world, probably because it is a malleable type of story that can be reworked to fit a variety of thematic needs. Japan has a tradition of using the ghost story as a moral tale and that tradition can be felt in Over Your Dead Body, a recent film from the ever-prolific Takashi Miike. That said, there is more to this film than a mere morality play – in fact, you could say it creates a celluloid hall of mirrors for the viewer to wander through.
The plot revolves around a production of the stage play Yotsuya Kwaidan, a tale in which a mercenary samurai plots and kills his way into a loveless marriage, only to discover it leads to more murder, a haunting and madness. Off the stage, lead actress Miyuki (Kou Shibasaki) is living a superficially similar life with her mercenary actor boyfriend Kousuke (Ebizo Ichikawa), who has lost interest in their relationship and is having an affair with an ingenue (Hitomi Katayama) who also happens to play Miyuki’s rival in the play. The events offstage begin to mirror the events onstage as a vicious strain of the supernatural gradually takes over.
Over Your Dead Body could have used this premise for the kind of shocker Miike has made in the past but the director seems more interested in exploring the ripple effect between fantasy and reality for the play’s participants. He gives the story an interesting slow-burn style – the horror of the onstage events doesn’t really cross over into the offstage stuff until the last half-hour – and delivers some creepy moments during the final third, including a self-mutilation bit that will have the audience squirming. Nobuyasa Kito’s photography is lovely, particularly in the stylized stage sequences that incorporate a revolving stage.
Miike also gets interesting dual performances from his cast, with the theatrical nature of their onstage work offset by more naturalistic performances offstage. Shibasaki does the most interesting work, starting off with a very internal performance that becomes creepier and more stylized as the story’s tone mutates, but Ichikawa makes a nice foil for her as a creep who becomes oddly sympathetic when he gets outmatched by the supernatural.
In short, Over Your Dead Body is a solid entry into the ghost story subgenre because it props up the expected scares with an interesting approach to storytelling where collisions between fiction and reality create the most haunting element.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just gave this title a U.S. release on blu-ray. The results look impressive, particularly in those artfully lit stage sequences. Both English and Japanese soundtracks are offered in lossless form, with English subs for the latter. The one extra is a trailer that plays up the film’s horror content.