One of the most delightful gems that came out of the 2010’s, that took so many of us far too long to watch, was One Cut of the Dead. The horror comedy could simply be described as “delightful,” and reminds people why they love movies. Well, now Shin’ichirô Ueda is back for more and I don’t hesitate to say, he’s done it again.
Kazuto Osawa leads Special Actors as Ohno, a down guy who is prone to panic reactions in intense situations. He loses out on acting gig for being unable to handle the pressure, and loses his security job for fainting when faced with something in need of securing. Running into his brother, Hiroki (Hiroki Kawano), at the tail end of an intense situation, he comes to learn that the former entrepreneur has been making a living as a bit actor taking parts in real life ruses set up by people looking to bamboozle others. The very attack he witnessed wasn’t real, and with his own passion for acting, Ohno joins Special Actors to take on roles as an actor in real life, an interesting and growing trend in Japan (or maybe in the west, if we take Curb Your Enthusiasm’s “professional crier” and Leon’s mugging scam for truth). Struggling to manage his panic reactions in tense situations, Ohno builds confidence and financial security playing the role of boyfriend, restaurant patron, psychic success story and most intense, new member of a cult. When a woman comes into Special Actors looking to investigate a cult and save her aunt and family assets, the crew takes on their most extreme gig yet, deceiving the deceiver, thrusting Ohno into the very situations he’d avoided for the sake of his issues with tense situations.
Those who know One Cut of the Dead know the impressive comedic sensibilities Shin’ichirô Ueda boasts, and his ability to bring delight to the screen. Nothing is done without thought and every quirk, shot, and throwaway line comes to matter. It’s never about watching intently to pick out the easter eggs, it’s about the smiling surprise of seeing something you thought was but a fun moment coming back to pay off immensely. His blocking is probably his signature, creating hilarious deadpan shots of groups reacting simultaneously, and having them lean together in fun ways. I love simple physical comedy, and Shin’ichirô Ueda is a master of it, making every nudge, grab and brow into a well timed joke.
What makes this movie even more meta than his last (a movie about movie making) is that Shin’ichirô Ueda quickly cemented himself as someone who creates elaborate gags and this entire movie is about an elaborate gag full of elaborate gags. The twists and turns are a blast, worthy of cheers, and land the movie with unexpected heavyweight cohorts I’ll keep under my hat so as to not spoil anything. It even dips into Infernal Affairs/ The Departed territory when the cult and the actors are onto each other and begin to plan counter ruses, culminating in a frantic disaster of a climactic battleground that layers levels of deception. “Deceiving the deceivers” is the challenge throughout, and layers of deception keep on piling up.
A silly little bucket of gags, Special Actors doesn’t shy away from grazing deeper themes on mental illness, familiar cult-like religions and their handling of mental illness, and the false premise of believing mental health issues can be tackled with an elaborate ruse. The writer/director loves movies, something that was obvious in his first feature, and continues to be obvious here as he sandwiches the growth of the characters with acting auditions, using them as bookends to highlight how they’ve changed. Further, he casts workshop attendees as screenwriters, directors and extras, lampooning every facet of their pre-production styles coveted in the film word. Everything is craft and comes together to create a really fun story that keeps you guessing and laughing the whole way through.