Friday, October 3, 2008
REVIEW: Exte - Sion Sono (2007)
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
Upon hearing about "Hair Extensions", my first thought was "OK, that's pretty much the death knell for J-Horror". The oft-used trope of long black hair as an indication of ghostly presences was now going to be the main focus...My perceptions weren't altered much by brief glimpses at online trailers, but I don't think there's any way I could've really set myself up for what to expect with Sion Sono's (director of "Suicide Club") most recent film. It's self-referential, over-the-top, deadly serious, silly, melodramatic, funny and occasionally jaw-dropping. With social commentary. So it's messy but also quite engaging.
After an opening scene where a body is found in a huge crate of human hair shipped to Japan to become hair extensions, we meet Yuko (played by Chiaki Kuriyama - Kill Bill Vol. 1, Battle Royale, Ju-On: The Curse). She has lovely long black hair and is studying to be a hairdresser at a local salon with a number of other young women. This initial introductory segment is snappy and gives you the impression the film might be a bit of a send up - Yuko and her friends talk in expository sentences (even looking at the camera) and her salon is called Gilles De Rais (after a French serial killer from the 1400s). Things start moving towards "Uzumaki" territory when a crazy undertaker steals that previously found body and brings it home with him due to its continued hair growth (through all sorts of orifices and crevices). This gives the body/hair/spirit a home base for its later attacks on unsuspecting wearers of extensions made from its own hair. The effects of the hair growing and attacking are both creepy and kinda funny all at once.
The serious tone of the film pops up in a couple of different areas...Yuko's half sister shows up suddenly with her little girl and we find that the girl is not only mentally abused by her mother, but physically as well. She's a sad frightened little child with no self-confidence and the film spends a great deal of time with Yuko's attempts to help her. Darker still are the quickly cut scenes showing flashbacks to what happened to that woman found in the crate. It kinda explains why her lifeless body is still pretty pissed, but also points to larger issues - the possible downstream repercussions of the selfish need to make oneself pretty on the outside and society's role in encouraging that.
If the film isn't perhaps as fun overall as it could be, it provides a couple of great "out there" scenes that made me laugh out loud. And if the serious messages of the film don't resonate quite as well by the end as they might have, I found they still came through quite clear. It's also not as scary as perhaps they could have made it, but it's great to see J-Horror "extend" itself into new areas and stay very much alive.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.