Next up in the When Horror Came to Shochiku box set from The Criterion Collection is a classic Japanese tale of ghostly revenge. The Living Skeleton (1968), directed by Hiroshi Matsuno, was filmed in black and white. This was a great choice as it allowed for some great visuals and use of shadows as only black and white can achieve. Matsuno supposedly directed some other films for Shochiku prior to this movie but they are not listed on iMDB. Suffice to say this may be a one-hit wonder but what a chilling tale it is.
The story begins with a gang murdering everyone on board a ship. Witnessing the act is a mysterious man with a disfigured face. Three years later, a priest (Masumi Okada) and his young ward Saeko (Kikko Matsuoka) are living by the sea. Seeking Saeko’s affections is a young man and, white scuba diving off the coast, they discover a group of human skeletons (well, they are supposed to be but they are quite obviously fake). A ghost ship appears off the coast and we begin to see the gang of killers die, one by one. Images of Saeko’s twin sister is always nearby (along with bats, don’t ask me why). But some twists are waiting around each corner and not everyone is as they appear to be.
The Living Skeleton is my favorite so far in this box set. It also seems to be the favorite amongst the critics. It has creepy atmosphere, good mood music (used minimally) and great use of shadows. A few effects don’t quite weather the test of time (long shots of the boat are obviously a model, a cheesy skull cap) but they don’t detract from the story. Check out the trailer and you’ll get an idea how good this one is. Highly recommended!