Over Your Dead Body

3 out of 5

Directed by: Takashi Miike

Context.  Context tends to mean something with Miike films, both in terms of where / how it fits within his oeuvre as well as the more general context of the environment into which it was released.

As I’ve previously cited, more educated people than myself – primarily Tom Mes at the sadly defunct Third Eye – have written the outlines of Japanese cinema (and by extension Miike) shifting from the v-cinema cheapies model to something more akin to a tentpole model.  Having established his name – and smartly maintaining his workhorse approach even adjusted to blockbuster flicks – Takashi has allowed himself the leeway to deliver less approachable flicks, though as usual with the auteur, certainly themes or stylistic ticks find their way into most of his projects, regardless of scope.

And yes, I haven’t said more ‘personal’ or ‘artsy’ regarding these experiments; Miike is both form and function, his films intuitively or purposefully designed to serve their purpose, whatever we deem that to be, while also providing an outlet for his (again, intuitive or not) whims.

The last decade or so – certainly post the v-cinema body of his work – has seen an interesting application of minimalism in these ‘other’ works, a style which has perhaps fed into or been learned from his dip into stage direction.  This has stretched from the sparseness of Big Bang Love, Juvenile A to the brash and oblique Izo, and even to Hara-Kiri, which garnered attention for being a remake of a well known film.

That last example is an especially relevant comparison: For Over Your Dead Body, Miike has adapted a well know folk tale concerning a samurai who sacrifices his wife and child for a sum and a title; the recognizable source material again (like Hara-Kiri) garnering interest on its own, and then Miike applies a similar – but distinct – style: A generally unmoving camera, save some precise pans; stark color choices; a near complete lack of music and an overall solemn tone.  Where Hara-Kiri’s ‘dryness’ of composition can be considered in its own review, Dead Body applies it to play with narrative, both in terms of what we expect (a twisty, Miike horror thriller a la Audition) and within the film itself, as the mentioned folk tale is being put on as a play within the film, interspersed with scenes from the lead’s real lives, which begin to parallel those of their parts’.

On the one hand, this makes for a lot of meaty subtext: The way the camera moves in and out of the 4th-wall for the in-movie play; that the play is shown to us as in rehearsal only, producers and directors unemotively watching; that the ‘real-life’ settings are sterile and still, as compared to the elaborate, rotating set on which the play is enacted.  (The set allows for some truly magnificently composed shots, some of the most striking of Miike’s career.)

On the other hand, that form and function non-marriage is drawn into sharp relief by using this as a vehicle for exploring the divide between audience and actor – the play versus the movie.  Even at 90 minutes the pace is slow, and its all very inevitable because were just observing, and not necessarily there to be entertained.

Again, this feels very purposeful.  And given the context of the story, of the director’s work, there’s genius in it.  But as a movie, not being clearly dramatic, or frightening, or thrilling, it’s a divisive view, perhaps best considered as a counterpoint to more bombastic offerings.