Special Actors (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Not so special this time

I was merely amused from time to time as watching Japanese comedy film “Special Actors”, which does not push its outrageous comic promise much beyond a number of mildly whimsical moments. Maybe because I am your average seasoned moviegoer, I could instantly see through most of those supposedly funny moments to be sprung here and there along its silly plot, and I only found myself dissatisfied more and more even though I was not totally bored during my viewing thanks to the diligent efforts from its cast and crew members.

During the opening part, we get acquainted with a rather amusing mental problem of Kazuto (Kazuto Osawa), a young actor who has struggled to get employed without much success. Whenever he faces anything aggressive or stressful, he cannot help but faint instantly, and that is certainly a serious handicap for him when he attempts to get a role in some TV drama series. To be frank with you, I once thought Joaquin Phoenix is sometimes too anxious in his acting approach, but now I have to admit that he is just a mild case compared to this neurotic lad, who even cannot act well as being so afraid of fainting again.

After another disastrous failure, Kazuto forlornly returns to his small and shabby one-room apartment. While he has already been behind one month’s rent, there is not anyone to give him some pep talk, and the only consolation for him comes from the VHS copy of an old corny B-movie called “Rescueman”, which he has often watched since his childhood. While this flick is quite ludicrous to say the least for many reasons including its extremely cheap production quality and bad dubbing, Kazuto feels a little happy for a while, and he keeps aspiring for any big break to come.

And then there comes an unexpected opportunity to Kazuto during one evening. Right in front of his eyes, some guy, who seems quite drunk, has a quarrel with a man he happens to come across, and, after this quarrel is over, it turns out that this seemingly drunken guy turns out to be none other than Hiroki (Hiroki Kono), who is Kazuto’s younger brother. Because they have not seen each other for last several years, Hiroki is glad to see his older brother again, and he soon reveals to Kazuto that he was actually pretending to be drunk and aggressive as requested by his latest client, who is, yes, the very man with whom he fought in front of Kazuto.

Hiroki subsequently takes Kazuto to a special actor agency which has handled him and many other performers ready to act under various situations. While they are usually hired to express fake emotions at funerals or movie screenings, they have also provided customized services to clients coming to them for many different personal problems, and we get a couple of cheerful scenes which show us how they help their clients through their carefully scripted situations.

Well aware of his mental problem, Kazuto is initially reluctant to join this agency, but Hiroko does not let him leave at all, and Kazuto soon finds himself acting a lot more than before because, well, he really needs the money right now for paying his rent. Although his mental problem remains an obstacle to overcome, he gets improved a bit as playing more along with Hiroko and his new colleagues, and they are all willing to assist and help Kazuto.

Meanwhile, one high school girl visits the agency with a rather challenging task. Her parents died due to an accident not so long ago, and her older sister accordingly inherited their family inn, but, alas, her older sister subsequently happened to join a cult, whose leading members are clearly determined to use the inn for another stepping stone for expanding their power and influence. For stopping this cult from taking over the inn, somebody needs to infiltrate into the cult first, and, of course, Kazuto is selected for that job along with several other performers including Hiroki.

The second half of the movie mostly revolves around Kazuto and his merry colleagues’ attempt to expose the scheme of several leading cult members, who have somehow made their numerous followers believe very outrageous things including an ancient cosmic entity which is supposed to communicate with their supposedly mute leader. This certainly looks stupid and preposterous, but there are many idiotic people out there in real life who think the Earth is flat, so this is not as outrageous as you may think.

It goes without saying that most of comic tension in the movie comes from that mental problem of our insecure hero, and the screenplay by director/writer/editor Shin’ichirô Ueda naturally gives us a series of silly situations where he must holds himself well for maintaining his disguise, but the movie fails to accumulate enough hilarity to engage us while also deficient in terms of characterization. While Kazuto remains to be a colorless one-note joke, the other characters surrounding him are also more or less than plot elements, and that is why the finale does not work as well as intended.

Although it is not a total misfire, “Special Actors” is not so special compared to Ueda’s previous film “One Cut of the Dead” (2017), a hysterically funny film about one nutty case of filmmaking. As I became more disappointed with “Special Actors”, I felt more urge to revisit “One Cut of the Dead”, and I recommend you to watch it instead of “Special Actors” especially if you have not seen it yet.

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