JANUARY 6, 2016
If there's one gaping hole in my modern horror knowledge, it's the work of Takashi Miike. I have only seen a pitiful two of his horror films*, and one of them is One Missed Call, which is probably the equivalent of using Always as half of your experience with the films of Steven Spielberg. The other is Audition, and from what I understand, this new film, Over Your Dead Body (Japanese: Kuime, and not to be confused with Over Her Dead Body, the movie that took three of the most charming people in the world and make us hate them), is more in line with that 1999 classic than the majority of his other work - however when I say "classic" I'm not speaking for myself, as I didn't really like it all that much, which (along with One Missed Call) is a big reason of why I haven't bothered seeing anything else, despite people saying "See Ichi the Killer!" or whatever every time I mention my lack of enthusiasm for the filmmaker.
Incidentally, what other of his work I HAVE seen is smaller form - his Three Extremes segment and his Masters of Horror episode, both of which I've enjoyed more than his films. And that impression kept coming back during Body, because it was very drawn out, though I am pretty sure that's part of the point. The film concerns a production of Kaidan (a Kabuki traditional play) and how its narrative begins to blend with the real lives of its actors, and I suspect Miike wanted to mirror that feeling for the audience. Like the actors who forget that what they're saying is fiction, I found myself getting so drawn into Kaidan's narrative during the long rehearsal scenes that I'd forget that it was technically just the flavor to the "real" tale being told (it'd be like if you were more into Fargo's Bruce Campbell-starring soap opera than Fargo).
And that's actually kind of helpful, because I do not know the Kaidan story very well. I saw Nakata's 2007 film version of it, but couldn't make much sense of it and also it was almost seven years ago, so that was no help. Miike gives you enough of the story to get the gist of it, but it didn't help much in the 3rd act, when pretty much all lines separating the play from reality are dropped - I had very little idea what was going on. Plus sometimes the actors are in their costumes but not in character, and it was hard to tell which - and again, that may be the point, but in this case I think you'd need to know Kaidan inside and out to suss out those subtleties properly. Or at least read a thorough synopsis beforehand, which I did not do because I didn't know any better. Let this be my gift to you!
All that said, I still enjoyed the movie, more or less. For starters it's GORGEOUS; the play's rotating stage is a marvel of production design and Miike shoots the hell out of it, but gives the outside/at home scenes plenty of visual appeal as well (that fish tank!). A lot of the Japanese films I see (or, SAW - I haven't seen too many since quitting the daily aspect of the site) are shot with cheap video cameras, but this looks wonderful and I'm glad I saw it on Blu-ray to do its visuals justice. The occasional FX were pretty good as well, and I loved how Miike teased us with repeated shots/closeups of a giant metal plate that you knew would decapitate someone eventually (it's part of a construction site that the protagonists have to pass by on the way to work every day), with a payoff that is definitely worth the wait.
I mentioned Audition earlier, and for good reason - fans of that film's tendency to offer out of nowhere WTF moments will be satisfied here, though one of the best such moments is spoiled by the trailer (don't watch it beforehand! It's kind of a lame trailer anyway but showing off its best scare moment sans context really stings). It's also got one of the all-time great "I know she's doing something I won't like but I don't know what it is yet" sequences, where we see a character throw a lot of metal objects into a big pot, which made me think she was setting up a microwave explosion. Then she filled the pot with water and boiled all of the instruments, and I thought she was planning to torture her jerk boyfriend and wanted options, but... well, it's not long after that where her intentions become clear, and I assure you it's far more horrifying than the rather benign stuff I had considered. I always like these sequences, where the pieces of some terrible plan are slowly falling into place and you can usually be assured that you're not fucked in the head enough to get too far ahead of the filmmaker (I mean, if you knew what she was up to the second she started banging her kitchen utensils around - why aren't YOU making movies for me to watch and review?).
But also like Audition, I think it's best to go in not knowing it's a horror movie. He doesn't wait as long to tip that hand (at least, as far as my memory of Audition can attest) but it's again treated as an out of nowhere development - nothing before that moment screams or even really hints "genre film!" (the first closeup of that metal sheet occurs early on, but I've seen dramas where road hazards are telegraphed in a similar manner). It would make those shocking developments play better, I think, if you (like its characters) just think you're in a story about lonely/broken people trying to have fulfilling relationships while putting on a production of an equally tragic play. As to why I opted to make it my first entry in the "revived" Horror Movie A Day, I have no idea (well, I do - it was on top of the pile of unwatched movies I have that I'm supposed to review).
Overall, I liked it more than Audition, which I know isn't saying much (that said, I should give that one another chance - my review seems harsher than I feel about the movie in my memory), but it falls into that same category of movies that are a bit too slow for my liking when you consider the payoff. When a slow pace culminates in a terrific finale to make it worth the wait, I'm a happy viewer - but this doesn't QUITE hit that mark for me. It comes close, enough to justify my viewing (and again, it's a terrific looking film), but not enough to keep the disc or speed up my laughably slow attempts to see more of Miike's work.
What say you?
*I've also seen Gozu, and I stand by my claim that it isn't a horror movie.