A theatre troupe is rehearsing a folklore Japanese play of murder and vengeance from afterlife when life begins to imitate art and, more than that, life and art begin to merge. The play being rehearsed, Yotsuya Kaidan ('Ghost Story Of Yotsuya'), is a traditional story of Japan, one of that country's more prevalent ghost stories and not coincidentally was itself written in 1825 by Tsuruya Nanboku as a kabuki theatre play. It is not the first time the tale has been filmed or influenced a work of art. The tale even inspired the villainess of the Ring movie.
Two questions are relevant when discussing a Miike film. One is specific and one is general.
Was the film violent, shocking or eccentric? You see he is subversive and baits the mainstream as Negisa Oshima once did. The answer is an unreserved 'yes.' The film is perfectly haunting. It is scary, macabre and violent right from the start. It is difficult to imagine that anyone could match old Japanese supernatural films, like Kaidan or Ugetsu Monogatari, in terms of chills and scares. Takashi Miike is the master and manages to do so. One scene, in particular, defies you to keep watching.
Was the film good? This question is perhaps especially relevant due to an existing benchmark given how the subject has already been filmed for the small and big screen in Japan. The answer is again 'yes.' The film is dark and tense, but simultaneously beautiful and stylish. The mixture of the modern and the traditional set, which matches the film itself, is dazzling and stylish. The chouchin lanterns, the kimono, the landscape, the entire set are frightening and attractive at the same time. The eerie music is chilling. The slow camera movement perfectly suits the ambiance. "You have already been in hell," exclaims the female lead and she might have been speaking to the viewers. Parenthetically fans of Japanese history and cinema will marvel at the appearance of a blind masseur reminiscent of Zatoichi. Moreover, the director has in recent past taken time to orchestrate at least two plays on stage in Japan with one being related to Zatoichi.
Miike stages much of the film appropriately on a Kabuki stage as a device - which might take one back to Kinoshita's 1958 drama Ballad Of Narayama - and to remove any suspense, yes, the blood does eventually flow. The original tale of a supposedly honour-bound ronin perpetrating such foul deeds makes one wish there were in fact spirits which would come back and haunt such guilty individuals.
As much as it is an opportunity to be screened at TIFF Over My Dead Body was overshadowed by the push given to Tokyo Tribe (also featuring actress Hitomi Katayama), which was given Midnight Madness categorization and extra promotion by the festival. Not having seen that film it would be impossible for me to render a verdict on TIFF's judgment, but Over Your Dead Body at the very least does not include hip hop thank goodness (see above... non-mainstream). Being in line to attend the premiere a man next to me was soon joined by two friends for whom he was waiting. When the first friend arrived he asked the person already in line what the name of the film was. His friend did not know, mumbled and pulled out their tickets to find out. The second friend soon joined and asked a similar question. He wanted to know what the film was, who was in it and moreover what it was about. None of them was really sure. However upon finding out the new guy asserted that: "It is Miiike, eh?" The kicker: the original guy who did not know the name of the film he was attending started talking about "Miiike" too and how great he is and how the director's film already has his vote for the People's Choice Award. It probably says something about the mindset of the festival's attendees. The three brothers-in-arms were near the head of the line too and, per later conversation, turned out to logically be fans of the oh so great mayor of Toronto as well. Enough said. Hi guys hope you enjoyed the film and the work of "Miiiike!"