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  Over Your Dead Body Play Away
Year: 2014
Director: Takashi Miike
Stars: Ko Shibasaki, Hitomi Katayama, Hideaki Itô, Ebizô Ichikawa, Maiko, Toshie Negishi, Hiroshi Katsuno, Ikkô Furuya, Miho Nakanishi
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Miyuki Goto (Ko Shibasaki) is an established stage actress who is involved with the co-star of her latest project, although mostly sexually as they do not seem to share much in the way of affection. That co-star is up and coming leading man Kosuke Hasegawa (Ebizô Ichikawa) and he has something of a roving eye when it comes to the ladies, though currently his interest lies with Miyuki, but as the rehearsals for the play continue she begins to worry that he is losing that attraction to her. As the days go by and the play, a piece of classic kabuki that has been given a new treatment, looms larger in both their minds, the roles they have been asked to play start infecting their minds to the extent that madness is the only option...

Ronald Colman won an Oscar for his leading role in A Double Life, where he played a Shakespearean actor who allows his part in a theatre production to dominate his thoughts to the point of murderous insanity, and it was not the only work of fiction to tease the connections between the real world and the made up one, so much so that at least in the minds of the characters they grow tragically mixed up. In fact it was a bit of a cliché by the point the incredibly prolific director Takashi Miike tackled the subject, here applying it to the old warhorses of Japanese theatre where a favourite work of the culture was twisted to examine what precisely it was asking us to find entertaining.

Or that's what it appeared to be up to, as often with Miike it was not always clear what he was aiming for, which rendered it all the more difficult to fathom if he had succeeded or not. For the first half this was an almost disappointingly straightforward backstage drama, where Kosuke cannot resist the charms of Miyuki's understudy (Miho Nakanishi) and it drives Miyuki nuts, much as her character in the play takes a terrible revenge on her ill-treatment by the unthinking men in her life. This was acted out in largely subdued fashion, however, in that first half anyway and intermittently thereafter, leaving many of this director's fans of his more idiosyncratic efforts disappointed that he could be so staid.

Thanks to that, Over Your Dead Body, or Kuime as it was named originally, will never take its place at the top of the tree, or anywhere near it, with the esteem of the Western followers of Miike, simply because it took far too long to get to the horror part of what had been promoted as one of his way out there shockers. You can understand that, the distributors would want to get those already interested and other potential audiences who had yet to dip their toe in the waters of his oeuvre but had heard of him by reputation and were intrigued to discover what the fuss was about to check this out, but it ran the danger of putting off either camp. If you were patient, he delivered the craziness he was known for, but even that had a lack of glee; it wasn't grim, exactly, but he looked to have serious things on his mind.

Topics like the treatment of women by men, whether that be romantically or professionally: not only does Kosuke cheat on Miyuki, but during the rehearsal where his character is called upon to kick hers in the stomach, he does it for real, doubling her up in pain. It seems this is the trigger to have the horrors of the play affect the real lives of the performers, and the way it is staged, with intricate sets (which revolve on the huge stage), make it look as if we were watching a genuine historical event rather than a recreation of a venerable play. But it was what came after that was truly unhinged, hinted at when the doll of the baby in the story is seen to cry real tears and blink: Miyuki is now obsessed with bearing Kosuke's child as if that would keep him by her side, and the gynaecological aspects she brings to the table, including a blood soaked operation she performs on herself, are all the more striking after the long, slow build up. Yet this risked confusion in its arrangement, something it was only too happy to continue after the credits rolled. Music by Kôji Endô.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Takashi Miike  (1960 - )

Japan’s most controversial director, notorious for his dauntingly prolific output and willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Miike started working as an assistant director in the late 80s, before moving into making straight-to-video thrillers in 1991. He made his feature debut in 1995 with the violent cop thriller Shinjuku Triad Society, and since then has averaged around seven films year.

His best best known pictures are the deeply twisted love story Audition, the blackly comic gorefest Ichi the Killer, cannibal comedy musical Happiness of the Katakuris and the often surreal Dead or Alive trilogy. Films such as The Bird People in China and Sabu showed a more restrained side. With later works such as samurai epic 13 Assassins and musical For Love's Sake he showed no signs of slowing down, reaching his hundredth movie Blade of the Immortal in 2017. A true original, Miike remains one of the most exciting directors around.

 
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