VIFF Review: ‘Special Actors’ will leave you with a feeling of pure, unpretentious, happiness.

It’s not often Matt and I both feel compelled to review the exact same film for the site. In fact, it’s only happened once before, with 2012’s Skyfall prompting two different Bond takes. It takes something truly special for us to feel compelled to both write about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors.

2020 VIFF Coverage Banner

If you’ve seen One Cut Of The Dead –and if you haven’t, subscribe to Shudder immediately and do so– then you’ll understand when I say that I can tell you the story, but I can’t tell you the story. A massive part of One Cut’s lasting charm is that moment when everything clicks into place, and the film creates a lovely warm little spot in your heart. Special Actors is no different, even if it is a little more subtle than *One Cut*.

Generally speaking, you’ll meet Kuzuto, a run-down wannabe actor who faints whenever any man confronts him. You’ll see Hiroki, his brother, who takes him along to his group of…yes…Speical Actors, a troupe-for-hire who’ll help you carry out messy tasks like breaking up with a boyfriend, or secretly testing a restaurant. There’ll be a girl who wants to stop her sister from giving away the family inn to a religious cult who have indoctrinated her. Much of the film is given over to the Special Actors concocting scripts and scenarios to expose the cult leaders for the scam artists they really are.

The rest I’ll leave for you to discover.

Ueda’s shooting style is often passive, with long, drifting shots allowing you to take everything in. The comedy here may be brash in places, but the film’s digital capture (that honestly looks like it could be iPhone footage) creates warm, real characters that are endlessly enduring. But beyond this, Special Actors displays a patience and focus on Kuzuto’s desperate fight with his insular self that eclipses even some of the relationships in One Cut. For all its high-pitched delivery and slapstick climax(es), there are beautifully tender moments where we can just sit with Kuzuto as he wrestles with his own inability to act. For anyone with similar anxiety issues, it’s a true and heart-wrenching portrayal.

A comedy lives or dies by its third act, and Special Actors not only sticks the landing but has a special late-game firework display too. By the time the credits roll, you realise how incredibly well the entire film has been crafted to leave you in the dark just enough that the final moments create a surge of pure happiness without an ounce of smug pretension. Just like One Cut, Ueda’s only intention is to make you realise just how beautiful it can be when a bunch of humans work together with the only reward being themselves.

And, in 2020, I can’t think of a better message for all of us. Now don’t read anything more, go into this movie as blind as possible, and fill your heart up to the brim.