Special Actors (2019) review [Japan Cuts 2020]


No one could have thought, not even Shinichiro Ueda, that his work-shop film with a no-name cast, One Cut Of The Dead (2019), would become such an extra-ordinary success, eventually earning more than 1000 times its original budget. Following such monster-hit is nothing but impossible. It would, in fact, not be the first time that the weight of having made such monster-hit is acts as a curse, perverting any future creative attempt. Luckily, as his latest narrative proves, Ueda does not fall in the trap of trying to emulate his monster-hit.

Japan Cuts 2020


Kazuto Ohno (Kazuto Osawa) really wants to become a professional actor, but realizing his dream is hindered by his tendency to faint when being confronted and put under stress. Not long after failing an audition where he fainted, Ohno’s boss ends his contract for having fainted while on duty as a security guard and not having told his problem at the initial job-interview.

The same night, while doing one of his last shifts as guard, he witnesses a lowlife annoying a flirty couple. As he fears fainting, he does not interfere, but approaches the lowlife after he received a beating. To his surprise, this lowlife appears to be his younger brother, Hiroki (Hiroki Kono), and learns that the fight with the salary-man was planned and paid for. Hiroki, eager to help his brother, invites him to join the agency ‘Special Actors’ he works for. Then, one day, the agency is asked by a girl (Miyu Ogawa) to help save the family’s inn from the clutches of a pseudo-religious cult named Musubiru.


Special Actors offers a crazy and unpredictable exploration of the ‘rent-a-friend, father, husband, … etc.’ phenomenon in Japan. Special Actors is an agency, led by Fujinami (Yusuke Ueda), who besides their normal business, offers ‘acting in daily life”. Based on the customer’s request, the agency’s scriptwriter Tagami (Takuya Fuji) concocts a scenario and Ayu (Ayu Kitaura), the acting director and the boss’s daughter, prepares the actors and the costumer to execute the scenario to perfection in society.

What the agency fundamentally offers is a radical way of manipulating of the imaginary. The salaryman, for instance, only ordered the fight with Hiroki to impress his female companion and to show her that he can protect her. He ordered, in more analytic words, the little piece of theatre to deceive his female companion into believing his (un-existing) phallic prowess. But the agency’s service to bend the imaginary is used for a wide range of reasons: to enliven film-screenings with laughter, to safe subjects from financial doom, and, more seriously, to aid costumers in escaping certain problematic situations, like the woman who requests the agency’s help to break up with her violent boyfriend illustrates.


That the central narrative plot – exposing of the cult for the scam it is – turns around the imaginary dimension should not surprise us, but the plot-dynamic should have played more profoundly with the luring characteristic of this dimension as such. As it stands, the narrative concerns the attempt to deceive the deceivers, but it would have even more powerful if it would have explored the inherent danger of their attempt – the need to deceive the deceiver without becoming deceived, the need to fake their believe without becoming actual believers.

But the fact that the narrative does not play with this luring dimension is all due to the fact that the conflict between Ohno’s desire to be an actor and his emotional obstacle, his tendency to faint, takes the center stage.

Ohno’s tendency to faint, which interferes at all levels of his life is an answer to the dynamic of confrontation. Confrontation, in Ohno’s case, short-circuits his ego and cancels out speech. While the act of confrontation orders the confronted to manifest himself in one way or another – as rebellious or as compliant, confrontation problematizes Ohno’s ego and forces his subject to shut itself down. But, as the narrative shows, it is not always an actual confrontation that causes the fainting. What truly causes the subjective shut-down is the pressuring feeling of having to manifest himself as subject. That becoming dizzy is often paired with traumatic fragments flashing before his eyes – e.g. the image of a person yelling shut-up or other confronting things – further underlines that it is the mental pressure of having to act as subject (in response to the Other) that forces himself to shut up his subjectivity by fainting.


Special Actors is thus, beyond thematically fiddling with the luring dimension of the imaginary, a narrative about overcoming a subjective deadlock, about the difficulty to pass through swirling anxiety and establish one’s subjective desire or, in better words, to manifest oneself as a subject with a desire in relation to the other/Other.

At the level of comedy, Ueda’s Special Actors is completely different than One Cut Of The Dead. While Ueda’s debut was a maelstrom of hilarity, Special Actors is more comically subdued, offering a fabric of little playful comical moments. Ohno’s fainting, for instance, is beyond its narrative function also a source of comedy, functioning both as an element of surprise as well as, as it is a recurring event, as an element of expectation. Ueda also expertly uses intentional ‘bad-acting’ to highlight the absurdity of certain situations and empower their lighthearted effect. The moments of ‘bad-acting’ are thus, by being effective in realizing their intention, a sign of great acting-performances.


The cinematographal composition of Special Actors, while more refined than the composition of One Cut Of The Dead, does not offer anything truly remarkable at an artistic level. Nevertheless, Ueda’s composition has, by way of its flashy transitions and lighthearted cadenced musical accompaniment, a pleasing rhythm.

While Shinichiro Ueda’s follow-up Special Actors is not able to reach the heights of his monster-hit One Cut Of The Dead at any point, Ueda still delivers a smartly constructed, highly unpredictable and fun exploration of the ‘rent-an-actor’ phenomenon and the necessity for the subject to pass through anxiety in order to manifest himself as a desiring subject.




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