I may have been late to the party with One Cut of the Dead, but you can now count me as a huge fan of writer/director Shinichiro Ueda’s output after seeing his latest project, Special Actors, which is just as charming and delightful as his previous movie, just in a completely different way. Ueda clearly enjoys breaking down the creative process through his filmmaking, and I must say that I absolutely adore his approach and his obvious passion of celebrating those who are willing to take creative risks, much like he has done throughout his career.
Special Actors is centered around an aspiring actor named Kazuto (Kazuto Osawa) who suffers from a peculiar affliction: whenever he finds himself stressed, he passes out cold, which is of course not ideal for someone who may endure a fair share of criticism or confrontation through their work. One night, while working as a security guard, he runs into his brother Hiroki (Hiroki Kono) who offers him a unique job opportunity: join the team at Special Actors, a company that specializes in making appearances at funerals, laughing during movies to get audiences to react along with them, or even testing out the wait staff at a restaurant at the behest of its owner.
All of these scenarios are perfect for Kazuto, and he begins to thrive in new ways. But when a new client comes in looking to help get her sister out of the clutches of a cult, Kazuto finds himself tested in new ways that pushes him and everyone else involved from Special Actors to the very brink as they enact their elaborate plan.
To say anything more about the film would be a huge disservice to the clever story that Ueda has concocted here, but without a doubt, if you were a fan of his work on One Cut of the Dead, then you’re definitely going to enjoy the journey that Special Actors takes viewers on from start to finish. And even though they both have similar cinematic DNA coursing through their veins, and both are undoubtedly feel-good stories about the resiliency of those who are willing to put themselves out there for the sake of their art, too, don’t expect Special Actors to be any kind of retread of One Cut of the Dead either.
Ueda’s latest is definitely a much different animal than what he delivered with his crowd-pleasing story of a ragtag group of filmmakers pulling together to tackle a nearly impossible feat for One Cut of the Dead, and I feel like his latest is a bit more polished than his previous effort. Special Actors also feels more focused on the special bond that is shared between siblings, and how far they’ll go for each other, and we see that demonstrated through both Kazuto and Hiroki as well as the client, Yumi, who desperately wants to save her sister from the clutches of the Musubiru cult.
It was easy for me to fall in love with Special Actors because of how well Osawa’s performance grounds the story, as there’s a raw earnestness to his portrayal of what might be one of the most unfortunate actors we’ve ever seen grace the silver screen. You can’t help but root for him, and his more street-smart brother Hiroki who clearly has a deeply rooted sense of affection for his struggling sibling. Also, I adored the use of the faux movie “Rescueman” to act as Kazuto’s constant source of inspiration, and I think that’s an aspect of Special Actors that many of us can relate to.
That being said, the second act of Special Actors does meander a bit, and gets just a little too complicated for its own good, but the final 20 minutes gets everything back on track, and as a whole, I just adored the magic that Ueda and his cast were able to conjure up here. One Cut of the Dead may have been Ueda’s breakout moment, but with Special Actors, he proves that he’s one of the most uniquely compelling filmmakers working today.
Movie Score: 4/5
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