Kyûketsu dokuro-sen, aka Living Skeleton starts of with a bang as the crew and passengers on a boat are murdered by a group of bloodthirsty pirates, giggling with glee as they mow them down with a stream of bullets. Three years later we met young Saeko living in a church, thrown into depression after that her twin sister Yoriko vanished on a boat journey (We all know what happened of course). She has found love in the form of Mochizuki but her slowly evolving happiness is halted on a diving trip when they find a cluster of skeletons chained to the bottom of the ocean. Later that night a mysterious boat comes into the harbor and Saeko boards it, believing that her sister is on it and after meeting what appears to be her ghost, Saeko begins a journey of vengeance, tracking down the pirates one by one and killing them. And then it gets weird.
This lovingly atmospheric gem of a movie - cowritten by Kyuzo Kobayashi, who also penned Goke bodysnatcher from hell - is quite an oddity, starting out as an eerie ghost story as Saeko (possibly possessed by the ghost of her sister) kills the pirates one by one in a series of groovy setpieces, nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to Japanese ghostmovies. But then, two thirds into Living skeleton, there is a twist and the movie turns into something stranger and more gruesome, and makes it an altogether more enchanting experience. I wont discuss what happens (no spoiling on my blog!) but this sparks some slightly perverse events (necrophilia and acid is involved) and the last half hour is great, gloopy fun that makes the movie stand out a bit more than expected. All of this is framed by scrumptious looking b&w cinematography and although all the mayhem towards the end would have looked good in technicolor red it suits the mood perfectly. Heck, even those not-so-anatomically-correct skeletons that make a couple of appearances look good in black & white. Yes, I consider this a gem and the final reveal on the ship makes the movie worth watching all by itself. Good, eerie fun.
Living skeleton is finally out on dvd, in the Criterion release When Horror Came to Shochiku along with silly beyond belief kaiju X from outer space and the awesome Goke - Bodysnatcher from hell and this is a boxset you need to own. Now. Go and get it.