The Living Skeleton is a beautiful movie. Not for the fact that it features murder or treachery or betrayal, nor even because it has ghosts and the titular skeletons. No, it is a picture that is gorgeous through and through for a myriad of reasons. Hiroshi Matsuno, the director of this movie has created not only an exquisite horror film but a ghost story that will haunt you long after you have watched it. Whether it is the performances, the actors who give them, the story, the cinematography or all of it combined, you cannot help but admire what Matsuno has achieved with this picture.
Shot in stunning black and white, the limited palette is used to perfection not only to represent what is good and evil, to separate our heroine from the villain but also to set the mood for what is to follow in the film. Sometimes it is loneliness, sometimes longing, yet more often than not it is to shine a spotlight on the horror that has taken place and the crimes that are committed. It is a haunting picture in the best of ways and like every picture, it relies on its visuals to tell its story effectively. Here, Matsuno and cinematographer Masayuki Katō take it to the next level with stunning shots that often single out our lead actress, usually to accentuate those impending moments when she is about to seek out her revenge.
Kikko Matsuoka is the star of the film, portraying both Saeko and her twin sister Yoriko who also happens to be the main ghost of the film. Yoriko having been shot down by a band of pirates along with a number of other innocents, returns to haunt each one of her killers and all of them to their eventual deaths. To say that Matsuoka is beautiful is putting it lightly as she looks almost unearthly at times throughout the film and while Matsuno might give the movie direction but Matsuoka brings it to vivid life. But it is not all about Matsuoka as the villains of the film are almost as memorable, most especially the Boss, whose scarred visage casts a striking figure. Where Matsuoka is our protagonist and a vision of all that is good in the film, Masumi Okada’s character is evil through and through. He shows no remorse for what he has done and proves that he has no qualms about doing so again. Altogether, the actors and actresses of this film put in stellar performances and it speaks to the overall strength of the material that they are able to do so.
Those filmmakers that want to make a movie about ghosts, hauntings and revenge could learn a thing or two from Hiroshi Matsuno and The Living Skeleton. The practical effects may not have been the best, but they were used to great effect and from that first moment you see those skeletons deep down underneath the water, you know immediately that nothing good can come of their discovery. It is an eerie, spooky and unnerving film and remains so even today, almost fifty years later.