How do you follow up a breakout horror film like One Cut Of The Dead? Impossible, you say? But if there’s one thing director Shin’ichirô Ueda knows, it’s making the impossible possible. After winning hearts the world over with his low budget zombie antics and heartfelt script, Ueda definitely had his work cut out for him. And while Special Actors probably won’t have the same kind of viral appeal, he nevertheless demonstrates once again that he can keep us on our toes with a film that simultaneously entertains and melts even the coldest of hearts.
If you enjoyed One Cut, then just know that you’re in for much of the same in the way of rug pulls and heart, and much less of the same in the way of gore and creatures. There is a “supernatural” angle, as main character Kazuto is obsessed with a TV superhero called RescueMan, but otherwise Ueda keeps the horror tropes to a minimum. If you’re already sold, then read no further. While I promise not to spoil anything, Special Actors is yet another film optimally experienced “blind.”
Our story follows Kazuto, an aspiring actor who suffers from a peculiar and specific form of panic attack: he faints when confronted. He’s kinda like those goats, but, y’know, a person. This makes it difficult for him to complete any auditions, and also renders him quite ineffective at his day job… as a security guard! But when his brother introduces him to a bizarre talent agency, Kazuto is determined to fit in.
This company, aptly named “Special Actors,” performs not on stage or screen, but in real life. For example, if you wanted to impress your girlfriend you might hire this crew to stage an elaborate scenario where someone tries to steal her purse while you manage to fight him off. Whatever the mission, this troupe—complete with a producer, writer, and cadre of actors—carries it out, while the targets are none the wiser.
Dealing simultaneously with a number of topics, Ueda manages to comment on anxiety, mental health, relationships, and familial bonds. What’s more, he manages to do this in layers and from multiple perspectives. He weaves a complex story with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) foreshadowing through authentic performances that naturally evolve while he constantly pulls the rug out from under the audience. True, it’s even less of a horror movie than One Cut, playing out more like straight drama and comedy. Despite this, Ueda still works in some entertaining genre tropes and squib packs.
Special Actors made its Canadian premiere at Fantastic Fest on August 20, 2020.