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The Living Skeleton

Posted by martinteller on May 8, 2013

On the freighter Dragon King, a group of pirates takes control to seize the gold on board.  They shoot the witnesses, including the doctor (Kô Nishimura) and his wife Yoriko (Kikko Matsuoka).  Three years later, Yoriko’s twin sister Saeko (also Matsuoka) is working in a church for the pastor (Masumi Okada) there.  No one knows exactly what happened to her sister, but it’s believed the ship was lost in a typhoon.  One day she goes scuba diving with her boyfriend Mochizuki (Yasunori Irikawa) and underwater they see a group of skeletons.  Later, Saeko sees a ship on the horizon and is compelled to investigate.  It’s the Dragon King, and as she explores, she reads the ship’s log… and she sees Yoriko.  Soon all the pirates start dropping dead as Saeko (or is it Yoriko?) embarks on a scheme of vengeance.

Some of the special effects are pretty cheap, some of the acting is pretty hammy, and there’s a third act twist that’s pretty hard to swallow.  But it all suits the off-kilter atmospherics of the film.  In the tradition of classic horror (including other Japanese kaidan films), it’s a creepy slow burn.  There are some really grisly — in a cool way — moments, and hints of necrophilia.

The widescreen black and white photography is very nice, cheesy effects notwithstanding.  Compositions are strong and the lighting can be very moody.  The ghostly appearances of Matsuoka are genuinely eerie.  Noboru Nishiyama’s score has some nice stuff going on, too.  Director Hiroshi Matsuno never helmed another film, although apparently he did some assistant director work on other movies.

Might be a tad slow in places for some people, but generally it’s effective horror with unusual flourishes and earnest dedication to the premise.  Matsuoka is especially good.  Rating: Very Good (80)


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