EXTE HAIR EXTENSIONS (aka. Ekusete) is the latest offering from director Sion Sono; whose most successful works include the cult classic “Suicide Club”, winner of “Most Groundbreaking film” and the Jury Prize winner and best actress, “Strange Circus”. “Exte..” was featured in the “Fantasia Film Fest” and expectations were very high for Sono’s latest film. Sono is a poetic director, and while this film captures a lot of established formulas that have been reminiscent in Asian Horror films, it doesn’t make it any less effective as a Horror-Dark Fantasy hybrid.
Yamazaki (Ren Osugi) is a morgue janitor obsessed with beautiful hair. One evening, a female victim of illegal organ harvesting was transferred to the morgue. Obsessed with the body’s hair, he stole the corpse for his own personal amusement. Surprisingly, the hair continues to grow from the dead body and occupied Yamazaki’s house. Meanwhile, a young aspiring hair stylish named Yuko (Chiaki Kuriyama, Kill Bill) is training at a local salon called “Gilles De Rais” under its head stylist (Yamamoto Mirai). Her world is about to be turned upside down when her sister, Tsugumi (Kiyomi Mizushima) leaves her daughter Mami (Sato Miku) under her care. Mami is a victim of child abuse, Tsugumi is an uncaring mother more concerned about getting drunk and spending time with her lover. Yuko, her decision supported by her roommate, Yuki (Megumi Sato) become adamant to keep Mami away from her abusive birth mother.
One day, Yamazaki shows up at Yuko’s salon and gives the workers samples of natural hair extensions. Although, the hair is lovely and very enchanting, the hair is cursed by an evil spirit. The vengeful force bedevils anyone who wears them by manipulating the hair follicles in every part of the human body--the hair will grow…
The screenplay by Sono (Strange Circus, Noriko’s Dinner Table) and co-writer Adachi Masaki (co-director of Ju-On) may seem to be a rethread of other movies concerning possessed body parts such as “The Hand”, the K-horror: “The Wig” and “The Eye”. It may be a ridiculously contrived plot at first impression, but if you know this director, you’ll understand his motivations. Asian horror has been plagued by the vengeful long-haired ghost so the director decides to “extend” its concept to the extreme. Sono expresses the idea of killer hair extensions to a frightening concept and pushes its limits, that delivers an uneasy feeling. The film is also a subtle way of ridiculing the usual trappings that J-horror in a humorously twisted way.
There are some graphically creepy sequences as the possessed hair takes over one’s body. Hair would grow from all parts of the body, eyelids, eyeballs, tongues and fingertips; body parts are decapitated with razor-sharp precision. The ways of hair torture are on display as Sono manipulates our senses with visual manipulation that borders on being absurdly twisted and at times, cartoonish. Blood and some gore is omnipresent, as the killer hair extensions move on their own accord, killing people who are full of vanity, but not that much that it would turn off viewers. However, if you want honesty, the abused child subplot is actually the film’s most effective asset. Tsugumi is truly a mother from “hades“, played by Kiyomi Mizushima with convincing fervor, you can’t help but have a lot of hatred for her character. Mima’s mother is the true monster in this film, she is cold, heartless and selfish. Tsugumi’s character makes Yamazaki’s over-the-top eccentric, campy villainy look like he’s Uncle Scrooge.
The dead girl in the container may lack (ahem) character development. We see her past in the form of flashbacks, as seen by the hair’s victims but the film never does provide any solid explanation as to who she is or why she could hold such unholy supernatural power. Glimpses of Yamazaki’s past is on display as to why he is so obsessed with hair but his character is a bit too comical to generate any interest. Chiaki Kuriyama pulls off a decent performance for the most part, but the most stellar performance falls to Miku Sato who plays Mami, the abused child. Miku Sato is so convincing with her role as Mami that the audience would definitely feel her ordeal. Mami is a child very afraid, and Sato gives her character a lot of life, the child actress bears her soul to portray her character.
Overall, “Exte Hair Extensions” may not be as good as “Ringu” or “Ju-On”. The film leaves a lot of questions unanswered that left me asking for more. This film is Sono’s most commercial film outing and too mainstream for my tastes, but it is a decent thriller. The director presents all the trappings reminiscent to other Japanese horror formulas, and puts them all together for his purpose. There isn’t a lot of emotional strength in this latest film when compared with Sono’s awesome “Strange Circus” and the climax may leave you with a lack of closure. The film is very “viewer-friendly” and easier to grasp than his other movies. Sono undoubtedly just wants to make a film that is for mainstream audiences as Takashi Miike did with “One Missed Call”. “Exte Hair Extensions” is creepy, sometimes goofy and comical, but definitely cool as ice.