Directed by Takashi Miike
Throughout his career Takashi Miike has exhibited an extreme range of directing styles, showing a proclivity toward graphic violence to a more poetic sensibility that complements the larger in scope, more traditional filmmaking the director has adopted in recent years. With Over Your Dead Body, Miike combines both personalities without overwhelming either impulse, choreographing a stunning film about power, love lost, and betrayal.
Performing in an adaptation based on the famous Japanese play “Yotsuya Kaidan,” actors Miyuki Goto (Ko Shibasaki) and Kosuke (Ebizo Ichikawa) are lovers acting on stage and in the real world. In both realms their relationship is troubled, and as they explore their characters in rehearsal, the dynamic under the hot lights begins to mirror their increasingly sterile suburban life once the curtain closes. Set in feudal Japan, the play centers around the Ito family, whose lord promises wealth and status to Kosuke’s character if he poisons his wife and weds Ito’s 16-year-old daughter. That scenario is also developing in the outside lives of Miyuki and Kosuke as he grows more distant and she becomes more withdrawn and submissive.
The set and production value on display when Over Your Dead Body delves into the world of the play is exquisite, positioned on a rotating circular stage that turns to punctuate the dramatic beats within the story and highlight the spectacular art and costume design shown on the robes and in the homes of the characters. Miike invites you into the world of the play so completely that it’s easy to forget there’s a world outside of it, until his camera backs away to reveal the silhouettes of the production crew quietly witnessing Miyuki and Kosuke act out their destruction. Then we witness them doing the same thing once they remove their costumes and jump back into their street clothes.
Up to this point the darker, more subversive side of Mikke is dormant, but it’s merely waiting patiently for things to deteriorate to the point of no return. As Miyuki gets neglected more and more, Kosuke starts to become unhinged. Blurring the lines between his character, his guilt at betraying his lover both onstage and off begins to haunt him, just as Miyuki’s struggle conceiving eventually drives her to madness. This is where the ghost story Over Your Dead Body is inspired by grants permission to Miike’s dark passenger to come forward in a more subdued but still signature fashion.
In the final reel Miike returns to themes and ideas he’s explored in films like Izo, Gozu, and the controversial “Masters of Horror” entry “Imprint,” giving in to his curious curiosity surrounding abortion and birth. The frame goes completely blood red, but the graphic nature of these scenes doesn’t betray the beauty of what came before. In fact, the masterful composition shown during scenes featuring the stage play make the more horrific set pieces (an apartment wrapped completely in plastic as the wind howls, for example) arguably just as aesthetically pleasing. With Over Your Dead Body, Mikke shows why he should be considered one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today, but he also wants to assure us that he still loves to get his hands dirty.