Friday, May 04, 2012

Vamp or Not? Kyuketsu Dokuro Sen

This is a Japanese movie from 1968 and was directed by Hiroshi Matsuno. It was known in the US as the living Skeleton – a misnomer, whilst we see skeletons they are not living. The reason I have looked at it here is because the film literally translates as Vampire Skeleton Ship. The film is on DVD but it is not subtitled. There are subtitles out there on the net but they are literal translations. That said you can follow the film with them.

The film, as we shall see, is full of story inconsistences that are almost more supernatural for the inconsistency. People who should be dead return – perhaps they are undead or ghosts or the killer was inept. It is a bizarre otherworld drawn in atmospheric black and white.

The film begins with a boat, the Dragon King, most of the crew and passengers are in chains and guns are trained on them. One of the pirates, who have taken the ship, shoots the captain. A woman called Yoriko (Kikko Mitsuoka), who is not chained, pleads clemency and has her blouse ripped open for her trouble. In a nice shot we see her reflected in the sunglasses worn by the scarred leader of the pirates. Yoriko’s husband (Ko Nishimura) is shot, as is she, and the pirates then open fire on the remaining crew and passengers.

Scuba diving
Three years on and Saeko (also Kikko Matsuoka) has been taken in by a kind priest (Masumi Okada). She is an orphan and her twin sister, Yoriko, is missing presumed dead. She is in a relationship with Mochizuki (Yasunori Irikawa), who runs a café. The two lovers go out in his boat for an afternoon of scuba diving. Before they dive he asks her to marry him but the sadness from the loss of her family prevents her from saying yes. During their dive they come face to face with a group of skeletons, chained together.

sailing through the storm
That night there is a storm and Saeko hears a ship horn. Strangely drawn to it she takes Mochizuki’s boat – he chases after her and gets in too – and before long they are face to face with the Dragon King. Their boat capsizes, Mochizuki manages to right it and clamber back in, Saeko ends up on the Dragon King. She searches the apparently empty vessel, a cloud of crap bats fly out at one point making the ship’s log fall before her, she hears a woman crying and sees her sister before passing out. The bats are important as they appear through the film – almost as harbingers of the spirit world – and clearly our association is bats and vampires. They are also very crap.

facing skeletons
Mochizuki makes it back to shore and he and the priest are in the church, the priest suggesting that he pray, when Saeko appears soaked and dazed. They take her to her room and, when a crap bat appears at the window, she calls out for her elder sister. In the morning she has vanished – though the priest later gets a postcard explaining that she has been put on a path of revenge. The film then follows several of the pirates as they are haunted by bats, the Dragon King, Yoriko (or possibly Saeko) and, on occasion, skeletons. Indeed one pirate who is now a diver faces another string of skeletons. The identity of the girl, and whether she is a ghost or real or (indeed) her sister, is mixed up through the film. At one point the ghostly girl is followed by Mochizuki and it is Saeko he finds; at another she appears in a rear-view mirror, sitting in the backseat of a car, but, when the villain turns and looks, is not there (that might be the pirate’s guilt though) and she seems to be able to vanish in public places with no clear exit route.

bat at mouth
There is a real Scooby-Doo moment that I won’t spoil. At one point Saeko is murdered (and there is a hint of necrophilia) then hidden in a suit of armour (western style) but then is suddenly onboard the Dragon King at a crucial moment. Was the killer inept, is she also (at that point) a ghost? The film doesn’t want to tell us. So far, however, on a vampire level we have had the bats and that’s about it. However, at the end of the film we get something more.

ghoul, vampire or cannibal?
Yoriko’s husband is on-board the Dragon King, looking worse for wear and rather ghoulish. We see him take blood from Yoriko and discover he has survived by living on the flesh of the dead (how that flesh lasted three years is a question best not asked). Is he undead? The film doesn’t say, he shows ghoulish or cannibalistic traits however. He also keeps acid in jars on a desk. Now this is the most bizarre thing. Some is spilt and then a pirate has their head pushed into it. The acid hadn’t eaten through the deck but eats through the pirate, causing him to go through an effect that looks like the rapid decay of a vampire. More is spilt and the acid then devours the entire ship. Yet if it were so strong how was it stored? It almost seems that this is supernatural also.

Kikko Mitsuoka as Saeko
All in all I do not think there is enough in this to warrant calling it a vampire film. Just a little more explanation around the ghoulish husband might have pushed it there… but explanation is not what this film does. It is, however, of genre interest, not only because of the name but because it certainly borrows some genre traits – mainly the bats and the rapid decay. Not Vamp.

The imdb page is here.

No comments: