Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2020 6:18 pm 
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Rank and file on set

On the lot of "Warp Station Edo," a popular shooting location for historical jidaigeki (period dramas), a camera crew follows several extras as they prepare for and perform their non-speaking roles as anonymous townspeople behind sword-wielding stars. In particular, they focus on a sixty-something former dental technician and part-time farmer in Ibaraki Prefecture, Kozo Haginoya (Kozo Haginoya) whose current ambition is to follow in the footsteps of his idol Steve McQueen - who, he most remembers, was a fireman in The Towering Inferno. Comically, Kozo's eagerness winds up causing multiple delays and reshoots of scenes. At one point he collapses with a stomach ache just as the samurai hero (Koji Yamamoto) is uncovering a dead body - an action he is forced to repeat over and over.

This cameo-filled mockumentary is a good-natured sendup of the Japanese film industry that is simultaneously a tribute to the essential role played by the extras who create the atmosphere and emotion that add up to the sense of realism behind a scene.

The title comes from ninety-something filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi, who appears bookending the film and concludes by saying, "To me, extras are... Maestros." Hence the titular "extro," a portmanteau blend of "extra" and "maestro."

Much of the action is funny but low-keyed. A key sequence comes when examining the rushes of a film some detectives notice one extra is a real-life drug dealer. Two undercover cops are sent in to play extras. They think their work will make acting easy, but in fact, they are horrible at it, occasioning a series of ridiculous bad takes. As one or the other of them reacts too little or too much to a filmed situation. Their irritating goofs send a macho star (Tatsumi Fujinami) storming off the set.

Mark Schilling of Japan Times thinks the spirit of this film resembles Ueno's 2017 hit (NYAFF 2018) One Cut of the Dead. Both movies play around freely with fake filmmaking.

Extr0, 89 mins., debuted apparently in Japan in March 2020. It was shown in July online as part of the Japan Cuts 2020 virtual edition, where it was screened for this review.

The festival is entirely online this year. Anyone in the US can watch it, paying a small fee for each individual film, from July 17-30, 2020. Go HERE to access the films

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