Over Your Dead Body (Kuime) (2014)

Review first published (in a different form) by Sight and Sound

“Sometimes I wish that the play was my real life,” says husband and father Jun (Hideaki Ito). “I don’t,” replies Miyuki (Ko Shibasaki ), who is playing the wronged wife Iwa in a production of Yotsuya Kaidan, even as she suspects that her lover (and co-star) Kosuke (Ichikawa Ebizo) is, like the immoral samurai Iemon whose part he is rehearsing, about to abandon her for a much younger woman (played both on and off stage by Miho Nakanishi). A supernatural comeuppance awaits both Iemon and Kosuke, for whom the fourth wall will present no barrier.

Nanboku Tsuruya IV’s 1825 kabuki play Yostuya Kaidan first appeared as a film in 1912, and has since been adapted more than 30 times for the big screen, most famously as Nabuo Nakagawa’s The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959). Yet with Over Your Dead Body (Kuime), Takashi Miike  brings this stately tale of conjugal treachery and ghostly revenge right into the 21st century – without ever forgetting its roots.

Half the film is a gorgeously shot dress rehearsal of the play in a stylised period setting on a state-of-the-art rotating stage, while the other half shows more or less the same drama unfolding in Miyuke’s elegant, minimalist home – and these two parallel narratives bleed into one another in a deeply irrational manner, blurring the boundaries between theatre and film, antiquated and (post)modern, actor and character, the living and the dead. In this smart update of a classic Japanese ghost story, Miike builds to an unnerving and horrific third act in which a phantom pregnancy engenders something strange and monstrous – while he also reinvents the menacing heroine of his first horror film, Audition, which screened at the inaugural FrightFest in 2000.

Anton Bitel