Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Japan Cuts ’20: Extro

If you want to work as an extra in the Japanese film industry, you will find yourself wearing a lot of Edo-era historical costumes. If you’re really lucky, you might get crushed by a kaiju or two. No matter what the context, extras must blend-in and never stand-out. It sounds easy, but it will be quite an adventure for some extras pursuing their trade in Naoki Murahashi’s mockumentary, Extro, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film (all virtual this year).

Kozo Haginoya is now semi-retired, so he has time for the extra work that comes his way through the Lark Agency. He mostly appears in Jidaigeki period productions filmed at the near-by Warp Station Edo, a model samurai-era town. Yet, his dream is to play a fireman, like Steve McQueen in
Towering Inferno. Regardless, it will be touch-and-go for him just trying to make it through this episode of The Claws of Edo.

Unfortunately for Lark, Haginoya will not be Lark’s most embarrassing client. That’s when
Extro takes a rather madcap turn. Murahashi definitely gives Japanese extras the Waiting for Guffman treatment, but he is so deadpan about it, the film’s zaniness totally sneaks up on the audience. For at least the first hour, viewers could be fooled into thinking they are watching a legit documentary, especially given the presence of real-life stars like Yuki Saito, Koji Yamamoto, and Riho Miaki (a.k.a. J-Pop star Riho Kotani), playing themselves.

Murahashi and screenwriter Hirohito Goto unleash some pretty wacky twists, but
Extro still makes a case for all the intangibles extras bring to a production. Fittingly, they start and end with legendary director Nobuhiko Obayashi rhapsodizing over the verisimilitude extras provide—and the events of the film ultimately bear him out. This is certainly a goofy comedy, but it still wears its love for movie-making magic on its sleeve.

So, with respects to Haginoya, a star might just be born in
Extro—or perhaps not. In any event, he makes the most of his turn in the spotlight. Established stars like Saito and Yamamoto also deserve credit for being jolly good sports. Highly recommended for fans of Japanese cinema, Extro screens virtually through July 30th, as part of the 2020 Japan Cuts.