Three years ago a freighter carrying passengers and a cargo of gold bullion among other things suffered a mutiny among its crew who wanted to get their hands on the loot. To that end they rounded everyone up who was not among the mutineers, led by the mysterious, scar-faced Tanuma, and pointed machine guns at them as the passengers began to panic, with good reason for the Captain was murdered before their eyes, and Yoriko (Kikko Matsuoka) was victimised as she tried to plead for the lives of the rest. Her husband stepped in and was also shot dead, then Yoriko followed him, and suddenly all the villains were opening fire, massacring the innocents in a hail of bullets. So far they have gotten away with this crime...
The Living Skeleton was more in the tradition of the Japanese kwaidan films, that was ghost stories, than the other, rare outings into fantastique from the studio Shochiku, who feeling the need to keep up with their competitors in the late nineteen-sixties when science fiction was well and truly the in thing, opted to release some of the most downbeat and cynical examples of the whole genre. In this case, known in its native tongue as Kyûketsu dokuro-sen, the urge to throw everything but the kitchen sink - a very spooky kitchen sink - to keep the audience on their toes resulted in what was undoubtedly a memorable experience, though whether coherence was a part of that was debatable.
We jump to the present, three years after the killings on the ship, and catch up with a woman who looks suspiciously like the supposedly deceased Yoriko. She is Saeko, her twin sister, still traumatised by the loss of her sibling especially as their parents left them at an early age, though she finds solace in the religious teachings of the local priest, known only as Father (popular and long-lasting Japanese TV personality Masumi Okada). She also has a doting fiancé, Mochizuki (Yasunori Irikawa), who in his first scene visits them both at the church bearing the gift of two freshly caught fish, just to underline the nautical connection as the ocean plays an important part of the narrative and its twists.
So much so that the Jaws sequel syndrome kicks in when you start to ask yourself, why don't the characters simply stay out of the water and away from those living skeletons? Yes, there are more than one. No, they are not living, in fact they only slightly resemble human skeletons, as if made by someone who had seen a photograph in a book a while back and was building them from memory. Anyway, those bones are floating from chains under the sea and belong to the murdered, but Yoriko might have something to say about that, in spite of being deceased - or is she? Or is she? Or... well you get the idea, nothing is a certainty in this world, not even the love Saeko has for her beau, though the main course turns out to be how far the mutineers, now part of the criminal underworld, can be driven to their doom.
Yoriko's apparition has a habit of showing up to hound them to their ghastly demises, except given she was identical to Saeko (played by the same actress), it could be some sort of subterfuge: is she, for example, turning on the gas tap in an evildoer's apartment and suffocating him with the fumes, though not before making an appearance to ensure he knows his wickedness has finally caught up with him. Others meet a similar fate, often with rubber - sorry, vampire bats bobbing around, but just as you're settling into The Living Skeleton as a simple supernatural revenge yarn it throws up revelation after revelation to shake the ground beneath your logical feet. Bodies mount up and secret identities are uncovered (you just knew Tanuma was going to make a comeback), leading to a climax on board the ghost ship (many have pointed out a close resemblance between this and John Carpenter's The Fog, though that was nowhere near as wacky) involving a mad scientist and his dissolving solution (what did he keep it in?). Almost comically miserable, but compelling. Music by Noboru Nishiyama.