Review: Extro (Japan Cuts 2020)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Okay, so that plan of mine to give this blog “the love that it sorely lacks” from back in January kinda didn’t happen, or at the very least, hit the most unexpected of unexpected detours: COVID-19. But I swear to God, coverage of JAPAN!!!!! Volume 2 will be commencing pretty soon… but first… JAPAN CUTS 2020!

Yup, thanks to you know what, this year’s JAPAN CUTS is entirely virtual, which is actually a very good thing. Why? Because 2020′s selection is, without question, one of its strongest ever, and being online means that more folks will be able to partake in its offerings! And I’m willing to bet cold hard cash that this will be your only opportunity to see certain films.

Anyhow, for the next few days I’ll be highlighting my must sees, as I do (or try to) every year. Starting with…

It only makes sense to kick things off with a film that opens (and also closes) with an interview with the late great Nobuhiko Obayashi, who’s final work, Labyrinth of Cinema, is this year’s centerpiece presentation. In my mind, at least; technically it’s Fukushima 50, which I really wouldn’t bother with. Anyhow, Obayashi explains how vitally important that nameless (or sometimes faceless) person you see standing behind the star of the show truly is in any motion picture; “extra make it real”. The point is further driven home by star of the big screen, and small, as well the stage, Koji Yamamoto; he states, “we’re being allowed to act in a place that belongs to them.” Which is what Extro, a documentary… or to be more precise, a mockumentary… is all about; it centers on several personalities enlisted by a talent agency that supplies extras to Warp Station Edo, a shooting location for historical shows, movies, commercials, you name it.

There are two focuses; first is Kozo, a retired dental technician who idolizes Steve McQueen (he absolutely loved him in The Towering Inferno, which he has two copies of on DVD for some reason) and who takes his role of farmer in some period piece very seriously… despite the fact that he’s both stubborn and clueless, so therefore a pain in the ass on the set. Now, during this half of the movie, things are played largely straight, so I’m legit curious if anyone not familiar with Japanese films, primarily Japanese comedy, may actually mistake Extro as a real documentary? In my mind, it’s less This Is Spinal Tap and more Waiting For Guffman… but it’s easy for me to make such a distinction, being a Westerner and all. As noted, Kozo is somewhat of a troublemaker, but we also see him enduring the same difficulties that actual extras much deal with, like performing a very repetitive action in the background of a scene that has retake after retake after retake. Though things are taken up a notch when we meet the other focus of the film, two other extras, Shota and Satoshi.

Actually, they’re undercover cops assigned to infiltrate the talent agency, when it’s discovered that one of the extras employed is a drug dealer that’s been wanted for ages. So, whereas the problems Kozo caused were due to him wanting to be a movie star, Shota and Satoshi seriously know nothing about showbiz, much to the chagrin of the leading actor of the production they’re part of, who is far less patient than the other one (with the cameo here is the legendary puroresu, aka professional wrestling in Japan, superstar Tatsumi Fujinami). It’s at this point, the wackiness starts to amp up quite a bit… yet when the undercover cops decide to take acting lessons, I can also see an American actor who has gone through something similar, reacting with, “yeah, I’ve certainly been there alright.” Hence why Extro excels at being a mockumentary; zero background knowledge is required to enjoy the movie, yet the more you know about what’s going on, the easier it’ll be for you to recognize how kinda brilliant the comedy is (though the ending does come out of nowhere, and it is pure genius).

You can view Extro, via online rental, from July 17 to 30, by clicking this link,

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