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.

OverYDB-bluThe 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 ingénue (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 geOverYDB-01ts 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.