Wednesday, May 14, 2008

HOLEHEAD08—Ekusute (Exte: Hair Extensions, 2007)

Sion Sono's Exte: Hair Extensions requires a willing extension of disbelief. Nyuk nyuk. A relevant synopsis might read: hair today, gone tomorrow. Whoo hoo hoo. You worry about a hairdresser punishing you with a bad haircut? You should worry about bad hair punishing your hairdresser. Exte: Hair Extensions puts the "bad hair" in "bad hair day", adding a whole new layer of meaning to unmanageable hair that won't behave. Okay, okay, I'll stop; but, I have to ask: Are you a Scissor Sister?

Naturally, Twitch has been on top of Exte: Hair Extensions since Gommorahizer first announced the project in November 2006. Marc-André Goulet—dispatching to Twitch from the 2007 Fantasia Festival—observed the "refreshing twists and turns to the genre" provided by the collision between "the weird universe" of Sion Sono and J-Horror clichés. Sono's exploration of the recurrent themes of child abuse and dysfunctional family cruelty are braided with J-Horror's most stereotyped motif: the ghost of a young girl with long dark hair. Todd Brown, in turn, doesn't miss a beat describing Sono as "a very strange man who makes very strange films" and—even if Exte may not qualify as his strangest—this story of haunted hair extensions "may very well be the oddest." In his own review, Todd isn't completely convinced that the film's two story lines truly come together.

Starring Chiaki Kuriyama of Kill Bill and Battle Royale notoriety (who James Maruyama in his Twitch review describes as "she of the big nose and 'Olive Oyl' lanky figure"), Exte likewise sports a maniacal performance by Ren Osugi as the most misogynistic hair fetishist ever (Norman Bates in his mom's wig pales by comparison), plus notably effective character-invested performances from Tsugumi as an abusive, selfish mother, Miko Sato as the abused child Mami, and Yamamoto Mirai as a level-headed professional hair salon proprietress.

Maruyama astutely catches that the beauty salon in the film is charmingly named after medieval French child-murderer Gilles de Rais. "[N]othing like the name of a medieval serial killer to lend cachet," quips Variety reviewer Ronnie Schieb, who appears more appreciative than most of the tonal shifts "with each motley strand of [Exte's] braided storyline" and the film's neat balance "between genuine J-horror and J-horror pastiche."

The SaruDama review perceives Exte's message as targeting "society's trend toward superficiality wherein the ultimate cost of beauty, health and longevity may indeed involve the misfortune of others. Our ghoulish Rapunzel does not discriminate between those who harvested her organs and those who harvest her hair at her expense. Violent fates befall both groups as if both at core are engaged in the same thing; namely, the use of one unfortunate life to better the life of another. Of course, the notion of hair extensions is undoubtedly far less abhorrent than illegal organ trade, but this line of distinction is precisely what Sono seems intent on blurring. And by doing so, he effectively pinpoints the vacuousness of this social trend in contemporary Japan." Or as Schieb synopsizes more succinctly for Variety: "Slavish conformity to fads usually signals imminent demise in a Sono film, and, sure enough, everyone who dons an exte dies a spectacularly hirsute death." Ultimately, I concur with Schieb: Exte is a hirsute hoot.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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