Fantasia 2020 review: Special Actors
Updated: Aug 24
Shin'ichirô Ueda’s hotly anticipated follow up to One Cut of the Dead is a sweet comedy
Written by Katherine McLaughlin
Shin'ichirô Ueda’s hotly anticipated follow up to the meta zombie hit One Cut of the Dead is a sweet and farcical comedy about confidence. Taking inspiration from real life, and as recently seen in Werner Herzog’s Family Romance, LLC, the actors who stand in for special and mundane occasions are at the centre of a story about a young man who is given the opportunity to test his acting skills by infiltrating a suspicious cult.
Kazuto dreams of becoming an actor but is failing at life; he can’t keep up with his rent and is finding it difficult to hold down his job as a security guard due to the fact that he is terrified of confrontation. Whenever a male figure verbally attacks him, he passes out, something that he explains in mortifying detail to a paramedic after an incident with a director at an audition. Close to giving up, he is presented with an opportunity to make some cash and gain some confidence by his estranged brother and the Special Actors business who offer him work.
The starting point suggests themes of masculinity will be on the chopping block, but the film is more interested in how people can be taken advantage of when they’re in a vulnerable state. The cult is introduced as a joke and a massive rip-off, with those in charge of questionable intentions. Everyone in this film is deceitful to different degrees, but the purpose of that dishonesty is something that is thoughtfully deliberated. Is there kindness or greed behind it? It’s a mildly funny concept that is injected with an infectious slapstick energy though the behind the scenes friendships that unfold as the actors put together a production to take down the cult.
Coming off the back of such a crowd-pleasing effort is a difficult task, and puts Ueda at a disadvantage to live up to such big expectations. The humanity, satisfying group dynamics and sly twists from his previous film are still present even if you’re now on the look out for them. The longer running time of nearly two hours clues the audience in a bit too much on what’s going on, and in turn the payoff is less exciting. Still, Special Actors is a lot of fun especially when it’s toying with superhero and haunted house tropes. Watching it is like being given a tender embrace when you’re feeling fragile and it works best as a charming tribute to the power of teamwork, kinship and supportive relationships.
Director: Shin'ichirô Ueda
Screenwriter: Shin'ichirô Ueda
Cast: Nozomi de Lencquesaing, Aver Hamilton II, Hayate Masao
Running Time: 119 mins