Takashi Miike shows us that when life gives you Iemon, you make Iemonade.
“Don’t worry, it won’t kill her.”
There was a period, not too long ago, where horror filmmaker and patron saint of Tartan’s Asia Extreme imprint Takashi Miike dropped his usual over-the-top yakuza shenanigans and zany manga adaptations in a favour of making a couple of very good, seriously dramatic samurai movies – Thirteen Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. The man is no stranger to drama, but to see him work in high-budget, modern historical fiction was refreshing. Of course, that wouldn’t last forever (the two films sandwiching those are exact representations of his typical work), so it was very nice to see in 2014, when he combined his love of horror cinema with classic chanbara drama, and released Over Your Dead Body.
The story is focused on two actors, Kosuke (Ebizo Ichikawa XI) and Miyuki (Kou Shibasaki) who are the leads in a theatrical telling of the popular ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan – the tale of an out-of-work samurai called Iemon who is offered a job protecting a wealthy family. Iemon is a less than scrutible indicivual, already with blood on his hands. So when his chance to work hinges on marrying the family’s daughter, it doesn’t take much convincing to convince him his wife Oiwa has to go.
The play reflects the main characters’ lives in a couple of ways, least of which is in Kosuke’s attitude towards Miyuki, who is his girlfriend. He cheats on her with her understudy, and at the same time Miyuki finds herself drawn to certain props from the play. From there the story moves in a way that anyone even slightly acquainted with the genre will find familiar, though unlike movies like Ringu or Ju-On, the haunting elements are second to the drama that’s unfolding.
Over Your Dead Body is certainly something of a slow burn, and it might look like little is happening in terms of horror for a good half an hour. This isn’t an inaccurate description, but seeing the events unfold as they lead up to an inevitable haunting, and how it connects to what is clearly a cursed production makes for highly entertaining, character-focused horror. It’s certainly quite restrained of Miike, and in a few ways the movie is paced a lot like Audition.
From an outsider point of view I would have liked to see more of the events of the play unfold in the real world. The final act features an Iemon who can’t tell dreams from reality anymore, and while the movie toys with this a few times it never goes as deep as it could have. This could possibly be due to the story’s popularity in Japan, and including this level of detail might have simply bored or spoke down to an audience already very familiar with the source material.
After all, a mainstream Japanese audience would probably be aware of the many accidents, injuries and deaths that seem to befall productions attempting to adapt it. Miike uses this curse to his advantage, making Kosuke and Miyuki’s stories feel just a tad more connected to the real world. Both Ichikawa and Shibasaki’s performances are spot on, whether they’re playing the actors or the characters in the play, seamlessly transitioning between the two. Combined with the gorgeous sets and excellent editing, it becomes difficult to tell where the lines between reality, play and horror are drawn, and as a result Over Your Dead Body does what every film in its genre is trying to: it draws you in and keeps you fixated, even in those few moments when it insists that slowing to a crawl is synonymous with good drama.
Verdict: With more restraint than I would have imagined from Miike, Over Your Dead Body works by drawing from the lives of both its in-story characters and those within the play, and doing everything it can to confuse the two.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Centipede art: I’d love one of those in my lounge
Fallen leaves: Beautiful set dressing, but think of the poor stagehands
Over Your Dead Body (2014)
Also known as: 喰女-クイメ-, Kuime
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Kikumi Yamagishi
Ebizo Ichikawa XI – Kousuke Hasegawa
Ko Shibasaki – Miyuki Goto
Hideaki Ito – Jun Suzuki
Miho Nakanishi – Rio Asahina
Maiko – Kayoko Kurata
Toshie Negishi – Misuzu Horiuchi
Hiroshi Katsuno – Michisaburo Ogata
Ikko Furuya – Kanji Shimada