Special Actors


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Special Actors
"Special Actors is full of twists and turns but resolves everything nicely in the end." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Anybody who has ever suffered from anxiety will understand the struggle that Kazuto (Kazuto Osawa) faces. He wants to get on with his life, carving out a career as an actor, but every time he finds himself in a conflict situation with a man, he panics and faints. There are hints that this stems from his past experience of life with an aggressive father (Japanese cinema rarely addresses the subject of child abuse) but whatever it is, he can't seem to make it go away, despite using a stress ball and paying regular visits to a therapist. One day, when he's late with his rent and has just been told he's losing his day job, he bumps into his estranged younger brother Hiroki (Hiroki Kawano), and his life takes an unexpected turn.

Hiroki works for an agency called Special Actors which arranges for actors to perform in everyday life. On his first job for them, for instance, Kazuto is required to sit in a cinema and life uproariously at a newly released film (there is, sad to say, probably more money in this than in being an honest critic). He also works alongside his brother to encourage belief in the powers of a psychic. At first the jobs are not too demanding. They pay the rent and they seem like an opportunity to build up his confidence bit by bit. But then unexpectedly wealthy schoolgirl Miyu (Yumi Ogawa) arrives at the office, beseeching help to get her sister Rina (Rina Tsugami) out of the clutches of a cult, and Kazuto has to take on something more demanding.

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A playful, warm-hearted comedy with a serious warning message abut exploitation by cults (which remains a big problem in parts of Japan), Special Actors is full of twists and turns but resolves everything nicely in the end. There has been something of a trend in the country recently for the kind of films which were popular in the West in the Eighties, and which many Westerners long to see more of. This fits nearly into that category and has the added treat of an in-world TV series, Rescue Man, which is a perfect spoof of those popular in the period and which Kazuto adores. Unsurprisingly, when he really needs to be brave, it's Rescue Man to whom he looks for inspiration.

Whilst the bulk of the film's jibes are focused on the cult, Musubiru, (musubi is a rice ball and this is both their sacred icon and an enduring source of humour), there's also some darker comedy about social exclusion faced by disabled people and the way that some of those who try to help are so clueless that they make the situation worse. Although Kazuto's fainting often creates comedy, it is never directly mocked, and we are given several opportunities to appreciate the courage he needs to keep on facing difficult situations despite it. Osawa's physical acting works very well in this regard, and is presumably one of the main reasons why he was cast. He is not, alas, really charismatic enough as a lead, so it helps that we spend a lot of time with entertaining supporting characters as well.

Though it lacks the high concept boldness that fans of Ueda's One Cut Of The Dead may have hoped for, Special Actors is very good at what it does, and likely to go down well at Fantasia 2020. It's a lighthearted comedy that will keep you on your toes.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2020
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Special Actors packshot
An amateur actor with a nervous condition that makes him faint at the slightest sign of stress joins an agency which employs actors to stage real-life situations. Being a stand-in at a wedding or a funeral is one thing, but soon he must infiltrate a cult.

Director: Shin'ichirô Ueda

Writer: Shin'ichirĂ´ Ueda

Starring: Nozomi de Lencquesaing, Aver Hamilton II, Hayate Masao

Year: 2019

Runtime: 129 minutes

Country: Japan


Fantasia 2020

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