Also known as: Kyûketsu dokuro-sen (original title)
Release Date: November 9th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Hiroshi Matsuno
Written by: Kikuma Shimoiizaka, Kyūzō Kobayashi
Music by: Noboru Nishiyama
Cast: Kikko Matsuoka, Yasunori Irikawa, Masumi Okada, Nobuo Kaneko, Kō Nishimura
Shochiku, 80 Minutes
The Living Skeleton is two things: eerie and atmospheric. It also reminds me of the darker episodes of the Japanese TV show Ultra Q, which was like a Japanese X-Files, three decades before that show even existed.
But it is darker and more haunting than that show, as this isn’t geared towards a younger audience. And in fact, the opening scene is pretty violent stuff.
The film opens with modern pirates taking over a ship off the coast of Japan. The pirates murder the crew and passengers before getting away. As the film rolls on, we see that this incident has caused a lot of spiritual unrest in the afterlife and a balance must be restored.
The story is a mixture of a traditional ghost story and Japanese folklore tales. There are skeletons underwater, a girl possessed by her dead sister and a few other surprises throughout the film.
The effects are really good. Especially considering the time that this was made and for the fact that it was a Japanese picture with a modest budget. And while some moments look a bit hokey by today’s standards, it all still works and the chilling atmosphere wraps around you like a thick blanket on a wet, cold day.
I really enjoyed this and while a lot of the events in the film seem almost random, for those more clued in to Japanese folklore, it’s a really cool experience. The Japanese have always been extremely creative with the monsters that have cemented themselves in their culture. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject matter and they have so many ghosts, spirits and “yōkai” that are just really damn cool.
Japanese horror is a breed all its own. The classic stuff is really cool and very different than what America or Europe has pumped out for decades.
The Living Skeleton is a rather short motion picture but it does a great job of showcasing Japanese terror and fears in a variety of ways.
Pairs well with: other Japanese fantasy horror of the ’60s and ’70s: House, Kwaidan, Onibaba and Attack of the Mushroom People, to name a few.