The Sleepless Movie Review
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Written and directed by Sion Sono
108 Minutes
Rated R for violent and disturbing content, some terror and language.

The choice of blue stars instead of yellow or red for a horror film like this is undoubtedly going to seem a little odd. Sion Sono's Exte is certainly enjoyable to watch, I think, but I'm at a complete loss to how thoughtful the film is. As a result, feeling like I've been defeated by him as I traditionally have with Suicide Circle and Strange Circus, I promote Exte to the land of blue.

Essentially there are two stories going on here. One is a heart-warming dramatic tale starring Battle Royale veteran Chiaki Kuriyama and her young but fucking adorable little co-star Miku Sato. I don't know what it is about the Japanese, but the kids they put on screen just murder American child actors in both talent and unabashed adorableness. Rikiya Otaka kicked things off in Ring, and now we have Miku playing a heartbreaking little girl living deep in her shell as a result of years of abuse from her godawful asshole of a mother, played viciously by Tsugumi as one of the most unspeakably selfish creatures ever captured on film. I'd say she was decidedly American given her attitude, but instead of just trying to buy off her child the way a shitty American parent might, she's punishingly and cruelly strict. Her child is a material possession, same as everything else. The child itself is not important, only that it's hers.

The other story is fucking insane. Sono's satire of long-haired ghosts, if that's indeed even what he's after, is full of interesting surprises and some of the goofiest imagery I've ever seen. Of course, the highlight of this thread is genre stalwart Ren Osugi, whose performance is as committed as ever and incredibly bizarre. That anyone would ever trust his character in the film is absolutely hilarious. If some middle-aged Japanese guy came up to me with long fake blonde hair wearing a shiny stars-and-stripes suit and carrying a birdcage full of hair extensions, I might find him decidedly suspect. Of course, once people get a good look at and feel for the extensions he's selling, he just seems like a harmless old kook. The hair, of course, is cursed. You do remember we're watching a Japanese horror movie, right?

Having watched three of his films now and still needing to sit down and watch Noriko's Dinner Table, I'm forced to conclude that Sion Sono, as a filmmaker, sits squarely between David Lynch and David Cronenberg in terms of both style and substance. Cronenberg's work is always the kind of thing that needs to be unpacked, while Lynch demands active participation and unpacking from the get-go. Cronenberg will typically have a basic plot line operating, and Sono operates the same way. However, Sono enjoys bizarre imagery and interludes that smack of Lynch's style. It's evident here, with the touching domestic drama of Chiaki Kuriyama's character being run in tandem with Ren Osugi singing about how much he fucking loves hair while a corpse with a missing eye occupies his apartment, draping everything he owns in a neverending stream of thick black hair.

I watched Exte and for the life of me, all I can tell you is that I was entertained, impressed, amused, and touched by the film. But I'm not qualified to review it, and I'm not sure anyone is. This is a film that definitely has operating internal logic, and you can't really say whether or not anything works. I think Sono's intention might be obscured in it, but his intention is never totally clear either. This would be the mark of a bad filmmaker except that again, the film itself works internally. Rarely do I get the sense that anything's missing. But my inability to make heads or tails of what he was getting at doesn't preclude my enjoyment of the film, only my ability to discuss it.

In the end, all I can tell you is that you should see it, because if nothing else, it's alternately sweet and fucking insane.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.