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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Donald Levit

Without the sex and nudity, Sion Sono bids fair to assume the mantle of Takashi Miike, who has lost steam in recent live-action kids’ and manga mentality. Mixing torture porn, dark humor, the paranormal and kink, the two have attracted cult following but not cracked semi-mainstream. That may change, with Cold Fish this year at Lincoln Center’s Film Comments Selects and New York Film Festival, and now “a first American survey” including that, Exte: Hair Extensions/Ekuste, and six other Sono films in the Museum of Arts and Design’s recent venture into cinema in five-month The New Rebels of “those bravely pushing cinema in rebellious new directions.”

Started out as a poet, Sono writes or co-writes his scripts and scores as well as produces. His “mining the overlooked cultural artifacts of his time” in tales of murder, abuse, alienation and, surprisingly, love, is on display in these eight underground favorites. Both he and Miike, however, read better for Western adult sensibilities when taking off from human beings, however aberrant or repellent, rather than grounding the work in the supernatural or video-game-generation wish fulfillment.

The 2007 Expe: HE U.S.-premičred that same year (ditto Miike’s Big Bang Love, Juvenile A) at Japan Society’s first Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film but, its premise revealed almost from the first, has nowhere to go even with a subplot of child abuse and surrogate/birth mothers and daughters.

As with Hamlet’s mordant comment on dead Polonius, customs inspectors nose a corpse packed in a shipping container stuffed with human hair. Her liver and one eye have been harvested for illegal transplants and her hair shaved for sale as extension-weaves, shown in static-introduced flashbacks of the anonymous woman’s view of her violators. (SPOILER ALERT) Police detectives Tatsuo Sugawara and Jirô Tamura (Ken Mutsuishi and Hiroshi Yamamoto) reappear throughout the case, but at the autopsy cannot know that flaky embittered morgue attendant Gunji Yamazaki (Ren Osugi) will swipe the cadaver and become the villain of the piece.

Parallel, soon to converge, is the life of Yűko Mizushima (Chiaki Kuriyama), an aspiring hairdresser sharing with Yuki Morita (Megumi Satô) a house with closets of bewigged Styrofoam practice busts. She has lovely long hair, sweeps up cut locks at the Gilles de Rais Salon -- after the fifteenth-century Satanist kidnap-murderer of some hundred boys, recounted in Huysmans’ 1891 Lŕ-bas -- and is condescended to by the full-fledged stylists there. Her man-crazy half-sister Kiyomi (Tsugumi) forces her unwelcome way in to steal, to pain Yűko by bringing up her abortion, and to dump off her own abused, cowed and disturbed four-year-old, Mami (Miku Satô).

At hair-fetishist Yamazaki’s weird waterfront house, the corpse’s hair grows fast and abundantly not only on the shaven scalp but also from mouth, eye sockets, fingernails and wounds. In American-flag shirt and unionalls, the lunatic snips the tresses into a bird cage, fatally gives one to a beauty parlor in Abesada and, camcording Mami’s and then Yűko’s hair, leaves other free samples at the Gilles de Rais. In retaliation for her lost innocence, organs and life, the dead girl’s hair grows uncontrollably and wreaks vengeance and havoc on whoever is unlucky enough to have it woven into their own.

The film does not descend to easy scares of suspense or sudden noises or apparitions. Nor are repeated shots of a cat named Rupin and a building score of “Silent Night” sinister. The only frisson is the child abuse which has conditioned Mami’s personality, which mistreatment a well-intentioned but mistaken taxi driver attributes to Yűko, who, along with teaching the frightened niece to be less formal, prefers to be called “sister.”

With fewer possible resolutions than recent J-horror ringtones and video cassettes, Exte: HE goes nowhere surprising. Broad comedy in increasingly bizarre Yamazaki, especially in his bobble-head end, lightens the load. The detective pair sort out the deaths-by-hair and track him to earth, but the tone is one of black tongue-in-cheek rather than of gory horror.

Its promo still is more horror-effective than the hundred-eight-minute entirety. One viewer was enthralled, though on the whole Exte: Hair Extensions should sit well only with fans of the preposterous. One can style hair-run-amok only so far.

(Released by Media Blasters and rated "R" by MPAA.)

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