Rotterdam 2020 Review: SPECIAL ACTORS, Lots Of Fun, Yet Not That Special

Shinichiro Ueda's new comedy has its faults, but is still a great crowd-pleaser.

Contributing Writer; Konstanz, Germany
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Rotterdam 2020 Review: SPECIAL ACTORS, Lots Of Fun, Yet Not That Special
Do you want to make sure there is enough positive feedback at your buddy's movie premiere? Would you like to hire a fake new boyfriend to help you break up with your current asshole one? Or have you ever thought, "Man, I need more guests at grandpa's funeral"? People in Shinichiro Ueda's new low-budget comedy Special Actors sure do, and to meet that demand, the titular agency is looking to hire actors. Even ones as desperate and unfortunate as our main protagonist Kazuto (Kazuto Osawa). Despite his big aspirations to become a movie star, the shy, skinny twenty-something has one big disadvantage: He tends to faint under pressure, a habit that has thwarted any attempt at making it big in the movie industry. So he spends his nights (and most of his days) alone in his claustrophobic single-room apartment watching his favourite movie, the trashy exploitation flick "Rescue Man", on repeat, dreaming of being a superhero himself.

The tide seems to turn in his favour, however, when he runs into his estranged brother Hiroki (Hiroki Kono), whom he hasn't seen since their mother's death. Hiroki tells him to pay the "Special Actors" agency a visit, where he is hired - on the spot - to take part in mostly harmless con jobs like those mentioned above. But when a new client entrusts the agency with saving their family's inn from an evil UFO cult, everyone has to step up their game.

iffr2020-specialactors-ext1.jpegThat's when the story kicks into high gear and presents the audience with all sorts of crazy situations and numerous twists and turns. The whole cast is game, infusing the film with all the glee and enthusiasm necessary to make up for the low production values and overall soap-ish visual presentation.

If all that sounds suspiciously familiar to you and the name Shinichiro Ueda rings a bell, it's because the writer-director also was responsible for the surprise cult hit One Cut of the Dead, which took the international festival circuit by storm back in 2018, garnering rave reviews and collecting countless audience awards. Following up a runaway success like that is never easy, and Special Actors isn't quite able to match the infectious energy and DIY charm of its predecessor. It often feels like Ueda and his actors set their sights on outdoing One Cut of the Dead, yet try a bit too hard: There's a clear tendency for overacting, which, at first, actually works in the film's favour, but can be distracting during the later con-job set-pieces. Speaking of set-pieces: Special Actors' story is told mainly through a series of increasingly ridiculous sequences. A few of the lesser ones feel as if they were originally conceived as stand-alone sketches before being added to the script. This is all held together by a plot that never makes much sense, and also features one twist too many (the very last one) for its own good.

That said, it's still a lot of fun, as long as you don't expect something, well, special. If you're simply looking for two hours of quirky entertainment, Special Actors will most certainly win you over with its disarming enthusiasm and hilarious ideas. With the right audience (and in a packed venue), this is an outright crowd-pleaser that manages to overcome most of its shortcomings with its sheer entertainment value alone.


Special Actors was featured in the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Rotterdämmerung programme and received an audience score of 4.25.
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