Given the fact that Takashi Miike’s cinematic output is exhaustively prolific, oftentimes cranking out over 5 films per year (in 2001 alone he managed to turn in 8 feature films and 3 out of those 8 were Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuri’s), its astonishing that Miike somehow managed to find the time to squeeze in a stage play in-between film work. Granted, Miike turned to the stage in 2005 which, by Miike standards was a pretty light year in terms of output, with Miike only helming one feature, The Great Yokai War and several episodes of the Ultraman Max television series, so perhaps its no coincidence it was that year that Miike chose to make his theater debut. The resulting play was Demon Pond, a fantastic Kabuki fable based on Kyōka Izumi's 1913 play of the same name. While the play never traveled outside of Japan, luckily for Miike’s international fan base a performance was filmed and later released on DVD in 2008. Following his return to the horror genre with Lesson of the Evil (2012), Miike once again returned to the genre which he’s proven himself so adept with Over Your Dead Body, an absolutely brilliant example of the art form and a film which also see’s Miike returning somewhat to the world of theater by way of the most famous of all Japanese ghost stories.
Lovers Kousuke and Miyuki (Ko Shibasaki) have been cast as the leads in a stage production of Yotsuya Kaidan, a legendary supernatural tale. Off stage, Miyuki is loyal to Kousuke, however Kousuke is unfaithful and in the midst of an affair with another actress which Miyuki is suspicious of. The longer rehearses for the play go on, the stranger Miyuki’s behavior becomes and soon the plays central themes of betrayal, jealousy and murderous revenge begin to spill over into the actors real lives.
Over Your Dead Body sees Miike fusing the two approaches he tends to gravitate towards in his horror films, the first being mood as seen in the likes of Audition (1999) and One Missed Call (2003) combined with the occasional splash of visceral extremity more akin to a film like Imprint (2006). For the majority of the film, Miike employees the former, establishing a sense of unease from the very start of the film, developing a monumental feeling of dread that is sustained throughout the entire film. The film is an exercise in mood, the epitome of a slow burn with parts of the film being so languid its as if they’re taking place under water which only makes the already off-center tone of the film even more unsettling. What’s more, the central performance from Ko Shibasaki also feel’s slightly alien which couldn’t have been more on point given her characters psyche. Miike also uses sound and editing to their full potential, at times giving the film a Lynch or Roeg type of feel and much like those fellow masters, Miike masterfully plays with the idea of fiction versus the actors reality, with the themes of the play interconnecting with the actors offstage lives. While not an overt bloodbath, when Miike does let the blood flow its certainly memorable with some of the more graphic moments of the film recalling the fetal horrors of Imprint and a sly hat tip to Paul Verhoeven’s The 4th Man (1983) near the end of the film.
The film is also one of Miike’s most visually astonishing, featuring some truly awe-inspiring production design, lighting and costuming, particularly during the scenes of the play’s rehearsal and performance and it can only be assumed that Miike brought with him the tricks he used while constructing the filmed version of Demon Pond. The play, Yotsuya Kaidan, is again quite possibly the most famous ghost story in Japan. Originally written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV in 1825, the story has proven to been a constant source of inspiration over the years in the realm of Japanese horror having been adapted to film well over 30 times with film versions dating back to 1912. How Over Your Dead Body will eventually be ranked alongside other takes on the tale remains to be seen, however some Miike fans have expressed disappointment in the film, the main criticism being that the film is all build-up with very little pay off. Its true that those who go into the film expecting a gonzo horror freakout will probably be disappointed but its crucial to note that with a film like this, much of the pay off IS the build-up. Over Your Dead Body is a stylish, original take on a classic theme and not only one of the finest horror films to come from Miike to date, but just the kind of film modern horror is in desperate need of.