The New York Asian Film Festival starts June 22 — leading up to the festival, we’ll be publishing reviews here on the blog and eventually gathering them over at IFC News.
So, Sion Sono‘s "Exte" is a film about haunted hair extensions, but it isn’t a parody of the declining J-horror trend and its nonstop parade of droopy-locked ghost girls. With its hirsute spectral source taking a back seat to a vampishly cruel
older sister and a goofy hair fetishist, it’s not exactly a serious
endeavor either. Like Takashi Miike‘s less successful supernatural cell phone horror pastiche "One Missed Call," "Exte" keeps a straight face through a wacky set-up, and comes up with, if not quite scares, at least imaginative and impressive death-by-tress sequences, including one in which a victim gets up close and literal with the expression "being given the hairy eyeball."
Sono made a name for himself among the fanboys both here and in Japan with 2002’s "Suicide Circle" (semi-sequel "Noriko’s Dinner Table" is currently playing at the Pioneer Theater in New York), a film that used horror conventions to explore the country’s high suicide rate. "Exte" doesn’t have such social satire in mind — central character Yuko (played by Chiaki Kuriyama, best known as Gogo Yubari) is an apprentice at a salon and approaches her chosen career with all of the ganbatte spirit a plucky drama heroine can be expected to muster. The town’s police force have discovered a dead girl secreted in a shipping crate filled with hair extensions. They speculate that she was killed so that her organs could be sold on the black market, but before they can investigate further, her corpse is stolen by a morgue worker who’s enchanted by the way her hair continues growing even in death. He pawns her postmortem locks off on Yuko’s salon, and customers start finding out the hard way that they’re infused with the dead girl’s vengeful spirit.
The ghost may do all of the heavy lifting when it comes to killings, but its Yuko’s slatternly bully of a sister Kiyomi (Tsugumi) who’s the more frightening figure. Striding into Yuko’s nascent independent life unannounced to paw through her things and drop off her unfortunate, abused daughter for a few days while she goes out to party, she carries with her an implicit history of Yuko’s dismal family life. Kiyomi’s power to harm may not be otherworldly, but it’s considerable — Yuko scrambles in her wake while her salon coworkers look on, unsympathetic.
"Exte" will play at the Japan Society July 5 at 8:30pm and July 7 at 3:30pm. It has no US distribution.