The Living Skeleton is a 1968 film from Japan, directed by Hiroshi Matsuno.
The prologue jumps right into the action, as pirates have hijacked a cargo ship, the Dragon King, and are holding the crew at the point of machine guns. Various people beg them for mercy, including the ship's doctor Nishizato and his wife Yoriko. The pirates don't listen and machine-gun the lot of them, including poor Yoriko, but not before raping her. The ship is reported as missing, presumed lost in a typhoon.
Cut forward three years. Yoriko's twin sister Saeko (played by the same actress, Kikko Matsusoka) has no surviving relatives. She lives in a seaside village, where she works as assistant to the local Catholic priest, Father Akashi. She is lovers with Mochizuki, owner of a local restaurant. One day the two of them are out scuba-diving when they find human skeletons, bound by chains, sitting at the bottom of the ocean (the victims on the ship were bound together by leg chains). Saeko, who when her twin sister was alive often felt a psychic connection with her, feels compelled to take a motorboat out to sea. She finds the Dragon King still afloat, drifting. She sees the ghost of her sister. Then she finds the ship's log, which describes how the ship was hijacked by five pirates.
Cut to the five pirates, who are all off living their lives, in varying circumstances after splitting 300 million yen, which was what they got for selling the gold bullion that they stole from the ship. They soon all begin seeing what appears to be the spectral presence of Yoriko. Then they start to die one at a time.
- The Alcoholic: Eijiri, one of the pirates, is shown three years later to be a sloppy disheveled drunk. After informing Suetsugu of the reappearance of Yoriko, Eijiri begs him for liquor.
- Bat Scare: In the first scene after the Time Skip Saeko is frightened by a horde of bats flying off the steeple of the church. Later, when the ghost (or is it Saeko?) strikes, creepy bats always show up.
- Bikini Bar: Suetsugu, the pirate who seems to be doing the best for himself, owns a nightclub where babes gyrate in bikinis. It seems to double as a brothel.
- Died Standing Up: How Eijiri meets his end, as he is showering when the ghost strikes. The other guests at the party wonder why he's taken so long in the shower. They go in to find him standing up with blood streaming down his mouth. After they turn him around he flops over dead.
- Distant Prologue: Starts with a scene showing the pirates massacring everyone on board the Dragon King, before jumping forward three years to the main story in 1968.
- Downer Ending: For whatever reason—guilt over killing a bunch of people, a compulsion to be with her dead sister—Saeko does not leave the ship with Mochizuki. Instead, she literally pushes him overboard (he swims to their nearby motorboat), then stays aboard the Dragon King as it sinks.
- Dramatic Drop
- Drop Dead Gorgeous: The only nudity in the film comes after Father Akashi strangles Saeko to death. He makes a point of ripping her nightgown to reveal a breast. Subverted when it turns out that Saeko wasn't really dead.
- Eye Scream: Suetsugu flings a knife at what he thinks is Yoriko during the final showdown on the boat. It turns out to be his moll Mayumi, whom he kills when the knife hits her directly in the eye.
- Ghost Ship: Saeko discovers that the ship her sister was on did not sink in a typhoon, but is still adrift on the ocean.
- I Love the Dead: Subtly impied with Nishizato, who has kept his wife's corpse looking like she did in life with some chemicals that he whipped up on the ship, as well as transfusions of his own blood.
- In Medias Res: Starts with no introduction at all, but rather the end of a tense scene aboard the Dragon King, as the passengers and crew beg for their lives before the pirates machine-gun them all.
- It Always Rains at Funerals: The first scene set in 1968, in which Father Akashi and Saeko are conducting a funeral, has nothing to do with the rest of the story. But it's raining at the funeral just to make things more spooky/sad.
- Kubrick Stare: Yoriko the ghost has a habit of shooting Kubrick Stares right before attacking.
- Latex Perfection: Father Akashi's true identity is revealed when he gets into a scuffle with Suetsugu and Suetsugu rips off his latex mask. He's actually Tanuma, the guy with the badly burned face who was the leader of the pirates three years ago.
- Laughing Mad: Nishizato cackles madly after Suetsugu and Tanuma find him in his creepy lab. Evidently three years alone on a boat full of corpses, eating dead people while keeping his dead wife looking fresh with blood transfusions, has driven him insane.
- Mood Whiplash: The dreamily romantic scene where Saeko and Mochizuki are scuba-diving in the bay is rather suddenly interrupted by the sight of a bunch of skeletons chained together, bobbing up from the ocean floor.
- Never Trust a Title: There is in fact no living skeleton.
- Plot Hole: Visually a very stylish film, but a lot of holes.
- How does a whole cargo ship drift on the ocean unnoticed for three years, when it's apparently close enough to land that it can be easily reached with a speedboat?
- Saeko says near the end that she is the one doing the murdering, that she has been killing the pirates after finding their names in the ship's log. But if so, if it's her and not the ghost of Yoriko, how does she keep popping up in weird places in the way a spectral entity might? How the heck did she get into Eijiri's apartment and into his shower stall to kill him? How did she kill Ono when he was scuba diving? Why do bats always show up out of nowhere when Saeko attacks?
- It was awfully industrious of the captain of the Dragon King to not only keep making log entries after his ship was boarded by pirates, but also to somehow get the names of all the pirates down in the log before he is killed.
- Just how likely is it that a skeleton would stay all connected together after three years in the ocean?
- The Reveal
- Kindly Father Akashi, who has given Saeko shelter and a job for the past three years, is actually Tanuma, the boss of the pirate gang. He's been wearing a mask the whole time.
- Nishizato didn't die when the pirates attacked the ship. He's been living on the ship for three years, apparently eating the dead, and he's gone completely insane.
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: They kill an entire ship's crew before absconding with the 300 billion yen's worth of gold that the ship was carrying.
- Sinister Shades: Tanuma complements his badly scarred face with mirrored sunglasses. Two images of Yoriko are caught in his two lenses, as she begs for his life, before he kills her.
- Stylistic Suck: The skeletons under the water look weird. They don't even look all that human; the faces of the skulls have a sort of bony protrusion where the upper lip would go, as if they were the fossils of some sort of missing link.
- Twin Telepathy: Saeko explains that when she and Yoriko were younger, they could sense each other's feelings and moods. That's why she feels she has to heed this sudden urge to go out to sea, despite Mochisuki's skepticism.Saeko: Ever since we were small, we seemed to be connected somehow.
- Vengeful Ghost: The ghost of poor Yoriko, going around murdering the people who killed her. Subverted in the end when it turns out to be her living twin sister Saeko doing the killing. (Maybe.)
- Voiceover Letter: Mochizuki receives a postcard from Saeko in which, in voiceover, she apologizes for leaving and says she has gone to another port town looking for one of the bad guys.