'Over Your Dead Body' ('Kuime'): Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A chilly horror film incorporating some lovely stage designs

Takashi Miike goes to the theater

The restless and prolific Takashi Miike takes inspiration from classic kabuki in Over Your Dead Body, a slow-build horror film that masquerades at first as an artsy backstage soap opera. Much less weird than some of Miike's other outings, it does eventually turn bloody (and briefly disturbing) but may underwhelm fans accustomed to fare like Ichi the Killer. Given the director's spotty record of getting U.S. distribution for his films, it will likely head toward niche video purveyors after its fest run.

Ebizo Ichikawa and Ko Shibasaki play Kosuke and Miyuki, lovers who are the leads in a new production of the 19th century play Yotsuya Kaidan. They spend their days in rehearsals that are fully staged and costumed, whose audience of crewmembers watches attentively from behind a couple dozen desks. On a rotating-platform set that's an elegant attraction unto itself (Yuji Hayashida and Eri Sakujima, sharing design credit, offer simple but entrancing arrangements of screens, lanterns and gnarled faux trees), they enact the story of a good-for-nothing unemployed samurai (Kosuke) who kills to marry a woman (Miyuki) only to betray her when something better comes along.

Kosuke is betraying Miyuki offstage as well, making excuses so he can spend his nights with a younger actress. For a time, this feels like a familiar (if well-enacted) tale: Professional ambitions will lead to romantic theft; romantic desperation will cause production headaches. But as he is wont to do, Miike takes the less familiar route, tying the actress's jealousy up with emotional illness and, perhaps, supernatural echoes of the play's climactic action.

Things had only just started to turn dark here when, after making some ambiguous preparations in her apartment, Miyuki sat down on her floor in a way that elicited an audible gasp of recognition in the audience. It was the moment at which a crowd that was clearly familiar with the director's oeuvre remembered they were watching a Miike film, and they were suddenly filled with fear. The action never confronts us with as much explicit gore as we expect in that moment, but the staging of this and subsequent scenes is appropriate and effective, allowing us a few shocked giggles while playing the character's despair straight. Miike and screenwriter Kikumi Yamagishi deftly return to their source material afterward, referencing present-tense action while enhancing the horrors of a play some viewers may feel is too dry. It's anything but dry in the end.


Production company: Sedic International Inc., Olm Inc.

Cast: Ebizo Ichikawa, Ko Shibasaki, Hideaki Ito, Miho Nakanishi, Maiko, Toshie Negishi, Hiroshi Katsuno, Ikko Furuya

Director: Takashi Miike

Screenwriter: Kikumi Yamagishi

Producers: Misako Saka, Shigeji Maeda

Executive producers: Ebizo Ichikawa, Toshiaki Nakazawa

Director of photography: Nobuyasu Kita

Production designers: Yuji Hayashida, Eri Sakujima

Costume designer: Isao Tsuge

Editor: Kenji Yamashita

Music: Koji Endo

Sales: Mongrel International, Celluloid Dreams

No rating, 93 minutes