The Living Skeleton

Year 1968

Kikko Matsuok as   Saeko / Yoriko
Yasunori Irikawa   as Mochizuki
Masumi Okada as Father Akashi
Nobuo Kaneko as Suetsugu
Akira Nishimura as Nishizato
Asao Uchida as Ejiri
Director - Hiroshi Matsuno
Screenwriters - Kyuzo Kobayashi
  - Kikuma Shimoiizaka  

The Living Skeleton, a black and white Japanese movie with subtitles, is actually a pretty good ghost story. It's better than Scooby-Doo, for example, and is on-par with a really good episode of the original Twilight Zone. Well, maybe not a really good episode. Maybe just one that's not a loser.

I'm sure that I'm being too kind to The Living Skeleton, but this is the fourth movie in the Criterion/Eclipse When Horror Came to Shochiku collection and after watching the other three movies and seeing that this one wasn't psychotic, I felt that it deserved some sort of reward.

The other three movies, Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell, The X from Outer Space, and Genocide are such a mishmash of genres, concepts, and extreme acting that if they were people, they'd be unable to function in modern society. So coming across this fourth movie with reasonable acting, coherence of plot elements, and being somewhat consistent throughout means a great deal to me.

The plot is that a freighter called Dragon King, carrying millions in gold boullion, was robbed by pirates. The corsairs also killed everyone on board. Three years later, the sister of one of the victims is having spells related to communicating with her dead sister. The pirates start dying off. But before they die, they see Yoriko, who is the dead sister.

Is Yoriko's ghost killing off these pirates? Saeko, Yoriko's sister, seems to think that her sister is involved. In fact, Saeko doesn't even believe that Yoriko is really dead. The pirates are convinced that Yoriko is getting vengeance from beyond the grave and they're scared.

When it's down to just two of the pirates left, they find a way to revisit the scene of their crime and the answer is revealed.

I can't be any more specific than that without giving away the plot twists. And let's just say that the plot twists are a little surreal. Why? Japanese, that's why.

I've got to give credit to the writers for introducing the idea that what the viewer sees may not really be happening. It'll throw you off the track a bit, which is a good thing. This story telling device is something that David Lynch does so well but it's also effective here, decades before David Lynch used it.

So why didn't I rate this higher? Take a look at the picture up above. Pretty lame looking skeletons, huh? The ones in the movie aren't any better. They're bones of something vaguely human, sort of. And that's just typical of what happens in the movie.

There must be something Japanese about bats. They show up often in the movie, hovering like hummingbirds in a most unbatlike fashion. Still, no big deal.

I started running into problems with the characters. Oh, Saeko (Matsuok), her boyfriend Mochizuki (Inkawa), and Father Akashi (Okada) were easy enough to keep track of. But the movie kept referring to the gold being split five ways and showing the people on the Dragon King who got the loot. But then different people started getting killed and more people than just the five knew about the theft. Who held up the boat wasn't exactly a secret in the movie.

I kept asking myself, "Is this person one of the five?" and even if the answer was yes it didn't help answering, "Is this a potential victim?" Then there are major plot holes like why no one notices a huge freighter in the harbor, or why some girl named Rumi died, or how skeletons came to be attached to one of the victims, or how motors are suddenly turned on, or how people got from place to place without boats (when traveling over water) or cars (the land type of travel), or why the haunting had to wait for three years.

One thing that I did notice is that Kikko Matsuok is very pretty. Even Hollywood noticed, I guess, since she had a bit part in You Only Live Twice.

By American standards, the acting is over the top. By Japanese standards, it's pretty subdued. In the end, it's not too annoying and doesn't detract from the story.

Even the use of miniatures, a must for every Japanese movie since Godzilla, is kept to a minimum.

I couldn't help but notice that one of the writers is named Kobayashi. Shades of The Usual Suspects! I wonder if it was intentional. But the Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects isn't Japanese. Hrmm.

There's one brief scene of breasts but no profanity or blasphemy. It has some chick flick potential because of the Saeko character. You could do worse for a little horror film; and, yes, there's only a little horror.

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