Review: Special Actors (Japan Cuts 2020)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

JAPAN CUTS 2020 is officially on! And the opening film this year may be the one that many have been legit waiting for their clocks to say 07/17/20 12:00:00 AM, and with good reason: it’s the follow-up from Shinichiro Ueda, whose debut effort, One Cut of the Dead, is a bona fide phenomenon (and which was the best film I saw during NYAFF 2018). All I can say is this: as much as I loved Kinta and Ginji, and perhaps it’s too early to say since I haven’t seen everything on my list, I nevertheless believe that Special Actors will end up being my pick as the best that the fest has to offer… despite how other critics out there have been kinda down on this flick.

The story goes something like this: Kazuto is a wannabe actor who can’t get through a single audition, due to his inability to handle pressure, which results in fainting. This does his jobby job no favors either; despite being a keeper of the peace, he has to look the other way when some drunkard tries hitting on another guy’s gal, who in turn gets punched in the face. Afterwards, Kazuto checks on the drunk idiot, and discovers that it’s his brother Hiroki? He too is an actor and the fisticuffs was part of an act; Hiroki was hired by the guy to demonstrate to the gal what tough stuff he is. Kazuto is then escorted by Hiroki to where he works: the Special Actors talent agency provides actors for special roles found outside of film and television. Like being the new boyfriend for someone trying to break up with a total a-hole, or to make sure that at least someone is crying at some other kind of a-hole’s funeral. Kazuto is hesitant on signing up, yet when Hiroki reminds his bro of that bills that need to be paid, which are all overdue…

The movie officially kicks into gear when a young woman shows up, seeking help. Her sister, who took over the family business of running an inn, after the untimely death of their parents, is also part of a wacky UFO cult. Said cult wants said inn as their permanent HQ, so it’s up to Kazuto, Hiroki, and the rest of the Special Actors to convince sis to not sign on the dotted line and also expose the charlatans for what they are! Saying much else would be entering spoiler territory, but let’s just say that not everything is as it appears… kinda like with One Cut of the Dead,. Yet not really, which seems to be everyone’s hang-up, that it’s not the same exact film as Ueda’s previous effort. Which is an unfair comparison; sure Special Actors is less frantic, because a different kind of story is being told here. One that’s admittedly more conventional, but more nuanced as well. Regardless, there are moments in which Ueda demonstrates that he’s the undisputed master of controlled chaos.

I really hate to beat around the bush, but again, I don’t want to say too much; TBH, in retrospect, I feel that my One Cut of the Dead review did just that. Though I also had no idea that it would set records by making 1000x its budget, plus seemingly everyone has seen it by now, so any such concerns are now moot. Still, that movie’s immense success demonstrated that there’s a legion of zombie fans out there, who were dying for such a fresh and brilliant send-up. And I suppose the tepid response to something that skewers UFO cults shows what little interest there actually is in the subject matter, comparatively speaking, yet some of us have been waiting for a comedy like this one for a very long time. Hence why I was far from disappointed with Special Actors! I also need to throw this out there: certain moments in this Shinichiro Ueda film reminded me of various others by Yoshihiro Nakamura, one of my all-time fave Japanese directors (BTW/FYI: don’t forget to pre-order the long awaited blu-ray of Fish Story next month).

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

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