Friday, May 01, 2015

Stanley ’15: Over Your Dead Body

If you are playing the part of an unfaithful lover who meets a grisly supernatural end opposite your real life lover, it is bad karma to betray her off-stage, especially if she arranged the gig for you. Unfortunately, Kousuke Hasegawa is exactly that sort of cad. Life will duly imitate art in Takashi Miike’s Over Your Dead Body (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 Stanley Film Festival.

Hasegawa and Miyuki Goto have the leads in the classical macabre kabuki drama Yotsuya Kaidan, adapted for the screen many times, including as Nobou Nakagawa’s pretty awesome The Ghost Story of Yotsuya. As the cast rehearses, a great deal as meta-ness unfolds backstage. Like his character, the sociopathic ronin Tamiya Iemon, Hasegawa is cheating on Goto (cast as the tragically trusting Iwa) with the younger actress playing her younger on-stage rival, Ume.

Iemon will do cruel and evil things to destroy Iwa to be with Ume. In ostensive real life, Hasegawa is maybe not as proactively duplicitous, but he clearly has no regard for Goto’s feelings. However, there are ominous portents of a malevolent force afoot. Eventually, even Hasegawa starts to pick up on the bad vibes.

Despite the bring-it-on title, OYDB is a remarkably restrained horror film, especially from a master of mayhem like Miike. In truth, it represents a return to the austere elegance displayed in his moody Jidaigeki tragedy Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. That might disappoint the faithful at the Stanley, but it certainly constitutes distinctive filmmaking.

Indeed, the play within the film would be well worth seeing in its own right. Watching the massive sets created by co-art directors Yuji Hayashida and Eri Sakushima rotating on and off the stage is quite an impressive sight. There is also a really creepy doll used as a surrogate for the play’s infant. Frankly, it is surprisingly easy to get caught up in Iwa and Iemon’s story.

Kô Shibasaki scores a knockout punch as Goto, coming undone like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction, but with far greater subtlety. Likewise, well-regarded kabuki actor Ebizô Ichikawa is appropriately reptilian as Hasegawa and Hasegawa in the role of Iemon. There is a cast of dozens on the set within the film. Yet, only Miho Nakanishi gets much screen time of substance, but when her entitled Ume gets caught up in Iwa’s wrath, it is a great scene.

Miike has probably already made ten films since wrapping OYDB, but it would be an awful shame if it was lost in the shuffle. It is one of the most darkly sophisticated life-parallels-art films you will see, easily putting to shame Polanski’s overhyped Venus in Fur and the very odd but well-intentioned 1915. Highly recommended, Over Your Dead Body screens tomorrow (5/2) and Sunday (5/3) as part of this year’s Stanley Film Festival.