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I have to say that i had to laugh when i first read a brief summary,
which only focused on the hair-horror part. "Killing hair?! what the ..
?!", i thought. But after seeing "Suicide Circle" and "Strange Circus"
i knew that there has to be way more than this ridiculous story.
"Exte" is obviously a parody! But there seems to be an awful lot of people who expected something like the grudge or the ring and are now pretty disappointed. Well, the scenario is pretty cliché and the ending was pretty gruff; nothing has been really explained at that point. Well, there are a lot of indicators which show directly towards parody! ;) At the very beginning for example: all these ultra-cliché dialog which was narrated in an obscure way in third person; the hair-salon which was named after a french serial killer (had to look that up); etc ...
BUT!! This film is still pretty scary ... and i don't mean only the hair, which .. was also scary (yeah, i was kinda scared ;) Human were the most scary/pitiful part here: The girl who was abducted and then used as a source for organs; The mother who abuses her child incessantly; then the child itself, of course; the hair-otaku, a real pitiful psycho; the main character (kuriyama) who carries a heavy burden of the past; all these people who don't care at all where this hair is coming from; just focusing on their beauty .. and all these other side-characters who might also have some sort of a problem.
Well, why then the hair-horror-part? Isn't abuse horror enough? ... you might ask. Well, i was wondering myself a bit ;) I mean .. from my perspective it worked out pretty well! .. anxiety, fear, panic, anger, frustration and in the end some sort of relief. It was there! Maybe because the hair-horror part made it easier to grasp the part about abuse etc. In my opinion "Exte" is some sort of an homage and at the same time a critique, that most horror flicks tend to be very superficial and are not trying to imply more than pure scare; some thought-provoking stuff; for example abuse .. ? ;)
Anyway: Cast was great!! Especially Osugi was really amazing! Art/direction was also a real feat! The Soundtrack wasn't that impressive but however the sound-design was stunningly good!
All in all an amazing film! Especially for J-horror fans with a little bit of humor and for those who have an interest in social relevant topics.
Too bad that so many people have been irritated by it .. ;)
"Body Bags", a rather weak early 90's horror anthology promoted by John
Carpenter, featured one segment with Stacy Keach replacing his balding
head with a murderous hairdo. The little story was unbelievably stupid
because human hair simply isn't the least bit scary. Sion Sono
("Suicide Club") also clearly realizes the concept of killing hair is
goofy, but somehow his natural sense of creativity and knowledgeable
approach of the genre resulted in a very entertaining horror/parody
film. During his introduction of the movie at the Belgium Horror
Festival Sion Sono vividly explained how he found his inspiration in
observing young Japanese schoolgirls and their fascination for random
and silly fashion trends. According to Sion Sono, the idea of braiding
someone's real hair into your own without knowing exactly what happened
to this person could lead to a terrifically tense horror formula. The
person could be cursed, brutally murdered or be a psychopathic serial
killer for all you know! Would you want to wear his/her hair in yours?
Interesting idea, indeed, but it definitely raises a few plotting
issues. How do you use ordinary human hair as an instrument of murder,
for example, and how do you continuously maintain the link with the
hair's original "carrier". Well, for all these questions and many
more Sono came up with answers that balance perfectly between
supernatural horror and plainly absurd comedy.
Custom agents discover the body of a dead girl whose eyes and organs were surgically removed, presumably by the organ mafia. Out of pure and furious anger, her restless spirit still causes the body hair to grow fast and in enormous proportions. The totally demented coroner sees a profitable business and starts selling the girl's hair to salons. Needless to say the extensions promptly take control over the victims, hair starts growing from all bodily openings and the fashionable girls die a very painful death. Most of the horrors take place inside the Gilles de Rais salon, where the ambitious Yuko struggles with work pressure as well as private problems. "Hair Extensions" is a wonderfully odd but original mixture of horror styles and strangely enough the contradictory themes never really collide with each other. The movie is successively scary, comical, gory, downright absurd and scary again and, as a viewer, you simply go with the flow. Still, the absolute greatest aspects in "Hair Extensions" even greater than the unique sense of humor - are the literally stunning and fabulous make-up effects and imaginative visuals. The multiple images of eerie black hair growing out of eye sockets and infected cutting wounds are quite icky and the absolute highlight of the movie shows a girl's hair pinning itself like a spider's web onto the ceiling. Sion Sono clearly dedicated a lot of time and effort to his character drawings. Yuko, her obnoxious sister Kiyomi and her little niece Mami are properly elaborated characters and Gunji the deranged coroner is the most fascinatingly eccentric freak I've ever seen in an Asian horror movie. The lovely lead actress Chiaki Kuriyama continues her unstoppable series of success roles, as avid genre fanatics will definitely recognize her from highlights like "Battle Royale" and "Kill Bill".
This horror film is about cursed hair, that anyone who wears the hair extensions has something very bad happen to them. The hair is cursed because the women who had it were victims of organ harvesting. A morgue attendant brings a corpse which still grows hair and sells/gives the extensions. This is where the other part of the film comes in. Hair stylist apprentice Yuko (the pretty Chiaki Kuriyama) lives in a small apartment with a roommate Yuki. She also takes in her niece Mami (a very young girl played effectively by Miki Sato) who is suffering from abuse at the hands of Yuko's evil half sister. I like the way the film lives in two worlds and comes together. The special effects are pretty good and while there is violence there is little gore. This is a horror film with good production values and Ms. Kuriyama plays Yuko very well, very likable and sensible. If you like horror, especially J horror, you will like this film. While horror is not my favorite genre, I enjoyed this, it moved along well, never dragged and you care about Yuko and Mami. Thats enough of a ringing endorsement, and the film succeeds on many levels.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*mild spoilers I just saw this movie at Fantasia tonight and since
there is no review yet, here's a first.
This movie will definitely please Sion Siono's fans. It's more lighthearted and not as disturbing as Strange Circus. The plot is in the B horror movie tradition and centers around a dead girl's cursed hair. But there's also the parallel storyline of hairdresser Yuko and the cute Mami-chan.
This movie doesn't take itself literally and that's an understatement. Siono knows his audience very well and incorporates many gags that will certainly please j-horror fans. Ren Osugi's acting is theatrical and completely outrageous. He delivers a crazy and fascinating performance. It also doesn't hurt that the production values are very high. A must see for fans of the burlesque and horrible.
Ever since the wave of Asian suspense films started in the late 90s,
the horror genre regained its mainstream popularity. The Asian market
spawned an overload of long-haired ghosts, the European market followed
with some fine gorefests and nail-biters and across the ocean, Saw
conquered the theaters and kick-started a whole circus of remakes,
rip-offs and sequels. In short, horror is hot again.
In between all this genre work are still a few films that dare to be different, coming from directors that are more interested in the genre itself than the hype surrounding it. From the beginning, Sion Sono was a director who failed to fit the specific horror mold. Even though his first fan favorite, Suicide Circle, was marketed alongside films as Ringu and Ju-On, he never quite fitted in with the typical J-Horror wave. Apart from the social themes found in his films, it's the general weirdness that separates him from the generic horror template. With Ekusute, his latest effort, he's back to take revenge.
Ekusute is a film about hair. Long, dark, mysterious, Asian hair. One of the most commonly used elements in the Asian suspense wave. Needless to say, the storyline is as crazy as it is fun. When a girl is tortured and murdered for her organs, they also cut off her hair. Obviously, the hair doesn't agree and starts to grow back from her dead body. A local morgue attendant with an extreme fixation for hair finds out and takes her home with him. He starts using her hair for a hair extension business he's been running on the side, at which point the hair extensions go on a murdering rampage. Hell yeah! To make things "worse", Sono contacted Ren Osugi to play the part of the perverted hippie hair fetishist. I still remember the first time I watched Osugi in Hana-bi and Sonatine. Back then I figured he was a normal actor playing an uncharacteristically strange role. We are now several years later, and I know better. Osugi might look like a normal, older guy, in reality he is one of Japan's most insane actors, taking on whatever perverted, quirky and twisted role he can find. He goes completely over the top in Ekusute, giving the film its final nudge into insanity.
Ekusute is for the biggest part a parody on Asian horror flicks, playing around with a bunch of clichés and plot points. The whole hairy background story is crazy, Osugi's performance completely off the charts. Sono manages to be quite creative with the elements at hand, coming up with some interesting death scenes and original plays. But beside all the madness, the film works on another level. Sono integrates a side story about a tormented little kid which gives the film some extra grit and depth. It's the mix of all these elements that makes Ekusute quite dark and unique.
Visually, the film is quite unstable, with rather plain visuals in its dramatic moments. But whenever Sono plays the horror (or freak) card the visuals become top notch. The scenes in Osugi's room are marvelous, making excellent use of lighting and hair effects to create shots that linger on the eyes. In between scenes Sono even tries some Tsukamoto-like magic, with rapid-fire editing of images filled with hair and accompanied by distorted sounds. As a whole, the film is visually pleasing, though it would've been nicer if it had been a little more consistent in its style.
The film remains a strange mix of elements. In the beginning it looks like a simple parody on the J-Horror genre, but after a while other elements creep in which make the film more disturbing than it should have been on first sight. It never plays on scares, but still manages to become a dark and brooding film, topped with some craziness and surreal moments (mostly those with Osugi). It's a bit hard to recommend, as Sono's characteristic blend is rather unique and contains many tricks that might put people off. Still, I enjoy his films as they always succeed in bringing something new to the table.
Ekusute might feel like his most commercial film to date, but that is mostly a disguise. It's a fun, crazy and surprisingly eerie film. 4*/5*
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Possessed body parts are nothing new to the film horror genre. There
have been a number of movies about cursed eyes (The Eye), demonic hands
(Idle Hands, The Hand), sinister facial grafts (Tanin No Kao),
reanimated human tissue (Re-Animator) and haunted arms (Body Parts) but
none have been stranger than Sono Sion's latest creepy thriller "Exte"
which has to be a first in the annals of movie horror with its subject
matter - cursed hair.
Starring Kuriyama Chiaki (she of the big nose and "Olive Oyl" lanky figure), the movie is a bizarre tale of a vengeful spirit of a young girl, who was the victim of illegal organ harvesting, left to die but only to have her restless spirit manifest itself as living "demonic" hair which would possess its victims (by entering into their body) and manipulate the host's own hair follicles to often deadly effects (rapid growth which would result in strangulation and suffocation).
While the plot may sound utterly ridiculous, "Exte" is a surprisingly effective horror film with several moments of genuine terror.
Kuriyama plays Mizushima Yuko, a fledgling beautician in a small coastal Japanese town. She is training with a local stylist(Yamamoto Mirai) at a beauty salon called "Gilles de Rais" (odd that a salon would be named after a French aristocratic serial killer and murder of children).
Her world would soon be turned upside down by the sudden appearance of her young niece, Mami (Sato Miku) who is the daughter of her older sister Kiyomi (Tsugumi). Mami has been abandoned by her witch of a mother and now Yuko and her roommate Yuki (Sato Megumi) must care for her. They will soon discover that she has also been severely abused by Kiyomi, to the point that Mami is emotionally and psychologically scarred.
As Yuko tries to deal with this personal problem. A gruesome discovery is made at one of the local shipping docks. A dead body of a young girl is found in a shipping container filled with human hair. Upon further examination, the body is discovered to be filled with human hair. A hair fetish "Otaku" Yamazaki Gunji (Osugi Ren) who happens to work in the morgue, steals the body and soon realizes that this body can rapidly grown hair not only from the head but also from various open orifices (the mouth, eyes, ears, open cuts). He soon decides (or rather is compelled) to sell this special hair to the local hair salons as "exte" (hair extensions).
Unfortunately, these "exte" have a life of their own and soon possess and kill the women that the hair is attached to. Yamazaki is also driven crazy by the haunted hair and soon seeks out other victims with beautiful hair, with Yuko and Mami being such women. Yuko must not only protect Mami from Gunji but also from Kiyomi who has returned to take back Mami.
The screenplay by Sono(Kimyo Na Circus, Noriko No Shokutaku) and Adachi Masaki (who served as Second Director on movies such as "Ju-On:The Grudge" and "Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara) is a hopelessly contrived story but one that is done surprisingly well and with straight-faced seriousness. It is amazing how creepy some of the SFX effects work with the hair and albeit there are some scenes which border on the absurd and cartoonish the overall horror effects are shocking.
One nagging plot point however is never really explained. We never really know who the young girl is in the container and while there are flashbacks of her ordeal before her death, Sono refuses to give us any details of her life or explanations as to how she is able to reanimate and control her body hair. It's an irritatingly MacGuffin contrivance but one that doesn't really kill the entertainment value of the film.
Kuriyama plays her part well and is quite good as Yuko. Child actress Sato Miku is definitely the standout with her portrayal of the abused Mami. While Osugi's manic and over-the-top villainy as Yamazaki is pure camp, the real chilling performance is Tsugumi's "mother from hell" Kiyomi. She is the true monster in this movie and her "Mommy Dearest" abusiveness to Mami will definitely spark much hatred for her character.
J-Dorama fans will recognize a lot of familiar faces in this Toei movie with Natsuo Yuna, Ebisu Yoshikazu, Sakuma Mayu all having small parts/cameos in the movie.
"Exte" is nowhere near as good as "Juon", "Ring" or other seminal supernatural J-Horror films of late but is still an effective thriller. Despite the hopelessly unbelievable plot, sometimes cartoonish special effects, and Osugi's tongue-in-cheek performance, the film somehow works.
Hair Extensions works much better than expected. I mean, seriously, how
much horror can one expect to come out of something as simple as hair?
But the hair in this film is possessed, you see. It comes out through
parts of the body once it attach's itself inside the host body: the
person gets hair through fingernails, shooting up like weeds in a
garden, through eyeballs, through a mouth, everywhere. And in this
film, one of Sion Sono's better works for mainstream consumption, it's
real success comes that it's not simply about a maniac guy who uses
demon hair to kill people (he also sells hair extensions that have the
roots that have Grudge-type problems, yes hair can remember). No, it's
also a domestic drama involving a woman who works at a salon (the
adorable Chiaki Kuriyama) whose sister is an abusive B-word to her
daughter, who is traumatized for life at the age of four.
For a little while (maybe the first 45 minutes) it's a wonder how these two stories, one with these people being killed by hair and this wacky guy in his home made out of hair-locks (and of course it's all lit in darks and greens), and the other with the salon girls and the drama with the sister and the daughter, will intersect. Once it does, the movie gears into being totally absorbing, and Sono is very creative with how he stages his horror set pieces. There aren't *that* many kills, at least not as many as one might expect from the director of Suicide Club. It's more about staging a setting and place, how it's lit, how the person in the shot moves about. It's not about jump scares, and it's not about some of the simpler modes that sometimes happen in "grudge" movies. In this film, a seemingly dead body can still f*** with the living.
The acting is also quite good, which is important as a lot of the film's drama rests on the sister and daughter and how Chiaki's character has to try hard just to reach out to the little girl (even more difficult after a particularly traumatic scene she sees, which we wisely only see some of before the big reveal). It's gory, which is to be expected, but I was amazed by the suspense that Sono was able to draw out of scenes, even in the climax which veers into over-the-top territory with its antagonist. Oh, and the movie is surprisingly funny to boot, mostly involving a cat who suddenly appears in scenes posed next to a statue outside at night (or just, you know, around), or how the villain sidles his way into the salon with his precious hair extensions. Only one moment that should be painfully obvious to anyone but isn't seen by the protagonist makes on do a face palm. The rest of the film is fun, effective and leaves an impression as art merged with genre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Being a Lovecraft fan I was hoping of finding a movie interpretation of
his story Medusas's Coil.
While the movie starts great (some people mistake the personal game for a comical breaking of the 4-th wall), the mystery behind the hair is explained pretty quickly.
But... It ain't Lovecraft.
I would love to have seen some cosmic horror creep into the unlikeliest of places. But when you get over the fact, that people need explanations for EVERYTHING nowadays, you can start enjoying what is presented.
It's a great mix of multiple personal dramas and a non typical ghost vengeance story with great acting (even the over the top ones) and good production values.
If you like a tad more unconventional J-Horror, you'll feel right at home.
Although its been a while since I last saw director Sion Sono's noted earlier work Suicide Club I had a good enough memory of it to be glad to get hold of this later outing, which is a strange beast indeed and a thoroughly entertaining viewing experience. It begins with a dead girl discovered in a shipment of hair. A mad hair fetishist coroner discovers that her hair keeps on growing after death and the events that follow intersect with an ambitious young hair stylist who also has to deal with her young niece and her abusive sister. The film takes the material for an alternately comedic and dramatic ride, with Ren Osugi's turn as coroner Yamazaki providing the bulk of the comedy and Chiaki Kuriyama's young heroine and her niece making for drama. Osugi gives a colorful, macabre and sometimes very funny performance, a highlight of the film whilst Kuriyama is greatly charming, moving deftly from hard edges to sweetness and carrying the film superbly. There are a few moments of creepiness but generally the horror is used for weirdness and leftfield shock sequences as well as assisting with the humour. It helps that the effects, while mostly CGI are pretty great and their quality combined with the loopy imagination on display makes for potently entertaining watching. The film could be tighter and perhaps could have gelled its elements together better to make for more of an overall impact but I still enjoyed it immensely. It may well divide even generalised Asian strangeness fans with its attitude, but I found it to be most rewarding of my time. Good stuff for sure and recommended.
Shion Sono is definitely one of the best current Japanese filmmakers. In this film, he takes a fairly banal J-horror set-up and produces something both horrific and beautiful. A morgue worker discovers a corpse that keeps growing hair. He steals it in order to harvest the hair, hoping to sell it to salons. Of course, the hair is murderous. Chiaki Kuriyama, best known as the teenage girl from the Crazy 88 gang in Kill Bill, Vol. 1, stars as a hair stylist who brings some of the extensions home. This would have been crap in most hands, but Sono is a master of suspense. There's also a lot of humor, although the villain of the picture gets to be perhaps a bit too silly in the climactic sequence.
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