Special Actors - International Film Festival Rotterdam review

★★★

Directed by #ShinichiroUeda

Starring #OsawaKazuto #KonoHiroki #FujiTakuya #KitauraAyu #UedaYosuke

Film review by Nathanial Eker

Quirky and intentionally amateurish, Special Actors is more oddity than odyssey. This strange film set against a bizarre reality of coincidence and absurd motivation charms, yet its peppy tone starts to grate after the one-hour mark. Its irreverent approach to filmmaking and an aptitude for fun over substance is endearing, yet one too many failed jokes and a nonsensical narrative structure hold this could-be comedy gem back.


Kazuto is a man in a pickle. He’s a mild-mannered chap who longs to be an actor, a seemingly impossible task due to a condition where he faints when nervous. After a chance encounter with his long-lost brother, he discovers a troop of actors employed to solve personal problems by pretending to be a fictitious third party. Kazuto must confront his anxieties and help the group take down a cult that threatens to con a member into forfeiting her family’s prized inn.


This shockingly over complicated premise is filled with more twists and turns than a Hitchcockian thriller. Director Shin’ichirô Ueda revels in pulling the rug from underneath both audience and antagonist at every feasible moment. Unfortunately for him, his script is rarely compelling enough for these revelations to incite anything more than a unenthralled ‘oh right’.


While the film tries to play off its repetitive script, silly plot, and amateurish aesthetic with a cheeky wink, we’re not so easily fooled. Dry camera work and hyperbolic musical motifs more at home in a Saturday morning kids show might provide some synergistic connection to Kazuto’s passion for a superhero romp of the same ilk, but it ultimately annoys more than it parodies. Pantomimic acting also hinders more than it helps as the stilted performances of every one-note character leave little to engage with.


However, there is something enjoyably foolish about the film that it’s impossible not to crack at least one smirk. In the same way we laugh at farcical memes, Special Actors engages that part of our brain that seeks pure, unhindered catharsis. There is no seriousness, no real stakes, and certainly no wide thematic commentary besides, ‘cults are bad’. Special Actors has no need for such things, as Ueda is content to make us laugh and allow us to relax, with no concern for emotive challenge.


In our increasingly depressing world filled with hard hitting films about pressing issues, it’s a welcome respite to have movies like Special Actors that turn off our brains and urge us to enjoy the simple pleasures of a man and his breast shaped stress ball. Special Actors doesn’t change the world, but it also doesn’t aim to. Sometimes a bit of fun is all you need.

#NathanialEker #IFFR #IFFR2020