SPECIAL ACTORS (Fantasia Fest 2020)

Japan’s 上田慎一郎 Shinichiro Ueda crashed into the consciousness of many in the genre film scene following the release of his much anticipated 2017 film ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, which is meta take on the zom-com zombie comedy genre with a distinct twist.  ONE CUT OF THE DEAD features a long single cut zombie film, which takes place as a “movie within a movie”, as viewers follow a film crew as they set up and shoot the zombie feature for television. The initial “one cut” is framed by the set up of what is going on outside of the film including the set up of the set, before panning out even further to show the shooting of the shooting of the set up of the one cut. There’s really three layers within the film, and the whole thing is so complex and involved that it will leave you with your head spinning so for those of you who have not seen ONE CUT OF THE DEAD – remedy this immediately and hit up Shudder.
After the DIAG viewing of ONE CUT OF THE DEAD we became fans of Ueda’s unique vision – the 36 year old director from Shiga Prefecture in Japan has such a unique style to his work that we were left absolutely hungry to see more of what this up and coming talent could do, and that leads now to SPECIAL ACTORS which was the second film shown as part of Fantasia’s/ live screening line up on opening day August 20, 2020 at 9PM.

It should be said firstly that SPECIAL ACTORS is not a horror film, and really, ONE CUT OF THE DEAD wasn’t either. SPECIAL ACTORS is firmly a comedy, with some very distinct anime elements to it. We meet Kazuto, an aspiring thespian, who adores a campy superhero series known as “Rescueman”, with dreams of becoming a hero of his own – if only he could get through an audition. Kazuto has a nervous anxious condition resulting from a traumatic childhood that causes him to faint when he is confronted with stresses – making the stressful environment of auditions unbearable. He loses his dayjob as a security guard, is unable to pay rent, and his life is spiralling out before him and he retreats to his apartment to watch reruns of Rescueman and eat ramen, until he meets up one day with his estranged brother Hiroki. Hiroki offers Kazuto a job with the company “Special Actors”, which is a company that specializes in hiring actors for everyday events – crying at the funeral of a CEO, coming to the rescue in subway stations, or even acting as stand ins at movie theatres. These types of acting jobs do not typically come with the stresses that make Kazuto faint, so he meekly agrees to take on a few roles.
Life seems to be turning around, ever so slightly, until Miyu walks into Special Actors with a problem – her sister Rina has been brainwashed by a cult known as Musubiru and she is giving away her inheritance and is soon to turn over the deed to the family’s traditional inn to the cult. Miyu begs for help from the Special Actors, and an elaborate scheme to infiltrate Musubiru is hatched. Musubiru is a rice ball worshipping cult led by messiah Temaru, a mute young boy who traded his voice for wisdom from Lord Gazeus from beyond the stars. He imparts the cosmic wisdom of Lord Gazeus through his father, and this wisdom is translated through to the cult members who pay dearly for costly gadgets and membership to Musubiru, which promises to cure them of their worldly afflictions.
Hiroki, Kazuto, and the ragtag band of Special Actors successfully infiltrate the cult’s ranks, and the film quickly spirals into the same type of bonkers slapstick madness that made ONE CUT OF THE DEAD so beloved of those in the genre world. There’s rice balls, ghosts, a fortune teller, a stress “boob”, and a cape made out of a tablecloth. And there is a distinct unrequited love element to Kazuto and his attraction to the silent and beautiul Rina.
SPECIAL ACTORS is simultaneously a “feel-good” film, and an outrageous and hilarious comedy. Kazuto, the otaku, the loser, the anxiety ridden dork, transforms before the audience’s eyes, from a painfully shy shrinking violet to something a little bit closer to the Rescueman he adores.. that is, if Rescueman still had anxiety.

SPECIAL ACTORS is decidedly low budget – the use of primarily indoor sets is featured prominently in the film, and like ONE CUT OF THE DEAD BEFORE IT, there is a very distinct punk rock DIY element to the whole thing. The thespian actors of Special Actors all feel genuine to their roles of acting stand ins, and there is a triumphant nature to their ultimate con-job in exposing Musubiru for the Scientology like cash-cult it is. However, for those coming to SPECIAL ACTORS looking for zombies, you may be sorely disappointed – for the departure from the loose horror nature of ONE CUT OF THE DEAD is prominent and leaves the film focusing instead on feel good anime elements as we watch Kazuto go from zero to not quite a hero.
SPECIAL ACTORS may not be for everyone, but with a solid 6/6 confirmed GRAVEYARD SMASH(TM), it was definitely for us.

What a bizarre truly brilliant film, and we cannot wait to see what Ueda has in store for us next.

You can check out more of our Fantasia coverage here:

The Drunk in a Graveyard guide to the TEN FILMS we are most psyched about at Fantasia Fest 2020.
Coverage of Neil Marshall’s THE RECKONING, short film DOPPELBÅNGER here, as well as our podcast episode on Justin McConnell’s documentary Clapboard Jungle here. And be sure to stay tuned for more coverage coming up soon, and follow our social media to keep up!

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