The Living Skeleton - 1968
The Living Skeleton - Released Nov 9, 1968 in Japan. Directed by Hiroki Matsuno
Pirates brutally slaughter the crew of the freighter Dragon King, and during their rampage also kill the ship's doctor and his new wife Yoriko (played by Kikko Matsuoka). Later, having sold the gold bullion they looted from the ship, the six pirates split their millions and go their separate ways, chiefly disguising themselves as legitimate Japanese businessmen or retirees, though the scarred leader of the gang (played by Masumi Okada) disappears entirely.
Afterward, Yoriko's identical twin Saeko (also played by Kikko Matsuoka) is haunted by the memory of her dead sister, and her dreams are often of what happened aboard the vanished Dragon King. Saeko lives at the church of Father Akashi on a wind-swept coast, and she is romatically pursued by her friend Mochizuki (played by Yasunori Irikawa), but she is frequently meloncholy and is divided about whether she can have a normal life with Mochizuki or might instead live the rest of her life hidden away at the church. We notice that this church run by Father Akashi seems to be always empty, with only Saeko, Akashi, and Mochizuki the only people enterings its doors.
On a recreational scuba trip, Saeko and Mochizuki discover a group of skeletons far below the ocean surface, the bony remains of the Dragon King crew, chained together and floating underwater in formation, bobbing up and down as if they've got something on their minds.
Returning to shore, the two young people are at a large coastal marina (also completely empty except for Saeko and Mochizuki) where they observe a heavy mist rolling in from the sea, and then they hear the fog-horn of a large ship as it comes into view in the watery distance ... and it is the long-lost Dragon King.
Director Matsuno starts off the film as a typical ghost story, but that hardly describes The Living Skeleton as it unfolds, which has so many other elements thrown in (mad science, mobsters, obsession and an extremely unexpected trick disguise) that it doesn't really conform to a straight 1968 horror film.
With frequent flashbacks (many inserted for a mere second or two to help us keep straight our cast of characters and who they once were, and who they are now) that the story-telling gets rather clumsy and obstructive. But the cinematography is very good, with the black and white world from Matsuno (and script by Kyuzo Kobayashi and Kikuma Shimoiizaka) becoming paranoid and strange as all the pieces of the tale of what happened before on the Dragon King (and what's going to happen next) congealing together like the boiling mass of acid that dominates the ending.
The Living Skeleton - 1968 - Box Set Eclipse Series 37: When Horror Came to Shochiku - alsoincludes The X from Outer Space; Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell. From the Criterion Collection - Amazon.com
Original Page December 2016
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