Acclaimed Japanese film-maker Takashi Miike sticks to his tried and tested formula of making at least one movie per year with chilly revenge shocker Over Your Dead Body, a flick that boldly attempts to be his meatiest (in more ways than one), and at times most impenetrable, yet. Set mostly on the set of a theatre production based on the ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan, the film takes life imitating art to a very literal level, with baffling, yet beautiful, results.
To reveal too much about the premise would be to spoil the fun, but suffice to say the action rotates around rising star Miyuki. Tasked with playing the lead role in the play, she finds herself struggling to keep it together with revelations aplenty about her cheating partner and fame-hungry colleagues. What Miike leaves us guessing about, almost until the very end, is whether Miyuki is outright nuts or if everything really is falling apart around her.
Playing a demanding, presumably quite massive, star who’ll do anything to keep her man, and her job, Ko Shibasaki is electric as both the star of the play and the star of the movie. The epic production seems to swell as she goes off the rails, the layers of gorgeous set dressing gathering almost as though she’s being choked by her own monstrous desires. Miike works hard to establish a creepy, ominous atmosphere, particularly in the highly effective scenes he stages from the play itself.
There’s a sense of foreboding throughout, the idea of life imitating art being heavily implied as the characters begin to overreact to everything around them. Miike’s background in stage production informs how he frames certain key moments, and the uninitiated (myself included) might start to wonder why he’s spending so much time on this damn play instead of getting to the real meat of the characters he’s created.
There is a method to the madness, of course, because this isn’t a straight adaptation, nor is the production within the film. It’s an odd combination of both that encompasses Miike’s theatre background, his love of body horror and gore, and his incomparable ability to make us question what the hell it even is we’re watching. There are times, for example, when it isn’t clear if the paranormal elements to the play are real or created by the SFX crew.
Over Your Dead Body is Miike’s first straight horror movie in yonks, owing a significant debt in tone, style and gruesome pay-off to his masterful Audition. The scheming, revenge-seeking, psychotic female pays a key role yet again and the nutso Grand Guignol finale will satisfy gorehounds in particular (you’ll struggle to hold a fork afterwards, trust me). The thing is loaded with beautiful, often blood-soaked set-pieces, and dripping with unease.
Yotsuya Kaidan is a beloved Japanese ghost story that has featured in many different guises, under many different directors, but after observing the ease at which Miike handles the difficult material, it’s hard to imagine anyone but him doing it justice. Prior knowledge of the story would almost hinder your enjoyment of his take, particularly as Over Your Dead Body deals primarily with wrong-footing the audience at every turn.
The snail’s pace will turn some people off, and it is, one presumes purposefully, difficult at times to follow but stick with it and you will find your faith rewarded. Unlikely to convince non-fans, but a memorably horrible return to genre for those who worship at the temple of Miike, Over Your Dead Body is a creepy, gorgeous and satisfyingly sick revenge shocker that will make you cringe and squeal in pleasure.
Chances are, you’ll never wander around your apartment in stocking feet again after this. And rightly so.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Takashi Miike
Writer(s): Kikumi Yamagishi
Stars: Ko Shibasaki, Hitomi Katayama, Hideaki Itô, Ebizô Ichikawa
Studio/ Production Co: Celluloid Dreams
Length: 93 minutes