FrightFest Review – Kuime (Over Your Dead Body)

Over Your Dead Body (Kuime)Kuime (Over Your Dead Body)


Here, the always-prolific Takashi Miike pays attention to one of Japanese cinema’s most oft-told tales, the Ghost Story of Yotsuya, and adds a modern-day frame story to the classic narrative of a would-be samurai Iemon who scorns (and poisons) his humble but supportive wife Iwa so he can get ahead in his career and marry his master’s daughter only to be haunted by his victim’s ghost.  Here, an ambitious production of the 1825 kabuki play is being workshopped in a large space with a revolving stage, a peculiar audience area which involves ranks of desks, and stylised theatrical décor.  Miyuki (Ko Shibasaki), an established star, is playing the plum role of Iwa and has arranged for her less prominent boyfriend Kosuke (Ebizo Ichikawa) to be Iemon – during rehearsal, Kosuke becomes more closely identified with Iemon, which means he gives a better performance but also that he starts looking for a way to get out of his relationship with/dependence on Miyuki and drawn to the young actress cast as the woman Iemon leaves Iwa for (Miho Nakanishi).  Miyuki becomes more neurotic almost in an All About Eve manner and Kosuke becomes crueller, but it’s possible they’re both falling under the spell of the play and the recurring tragedies upon which it’s based … reality and theatrical artifice mesh, and the spirit of Iwa, half her face bloated and blackened, manifests in Miyuke, who takes gruesome revenge upon her abusers.  At times, the film seems on the point of escaping from its huge set and becoming a period epic – but that may be because the art direction is so astonishingly brilliant that the revolving stage genuinely becomes the whole world for the characters.  It gets blackly humorous with its decapitations and the fond treatment of a severed head and even has some 1980s-style make-up horrors as faces are peeled off like masks, but mostly it’s an intensely-acted meditation on the ritual of performance and the recurrence of corruption and tragedy.  The three leads are extraordinary in very complicated roles, and the approach evokes such odd items as the film version of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Birdman and the inset illustrative stories in Paul Schrader’s Mishima, though there are also Japanese cinema precedents in the many filmed versions of kabuki drama, including dozens of retellings of this story.



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