Original release: February 17th, seek 2007
Running time: 108 minutes
Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese
Director: Sion Sono
Writers: Sion Sono, viagra canada Masaki Adachi
Cast: Chiaki Kuriyama, Tsugumi, Ren Osugi, Miku Sato
Sometimes we anticipate films because two very different worlds collide in a way we hadn’t expected. Having already seen a number of films from Japanese director Sion Sono, I admired his ability to maintain creative control over his films and I really wanted to see what the director of Suicide Club (2002), Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) and Cold Fish (2010) would do with a vengeful spirit horror in the vein of the popular Ring (1998) and Ju-on: The Grudge (2002). I was certain of one thing though: it’s going to be anything but usual.
To be fair, the film’s unorthodox approach to a concept that’s familiar from Japanese horror is quite clear just by looking at the title. What could possibly be the connection between an angry ghost and hair extensions? Admittedly, I probably couldn’t be any further from an expert in the world of fetish, so watching this film was my first time to learn about trichophilia – otherwise known as “hair fetishism”. The source of all frights in Exte is an uncanny marriage of sorts between a trichophile loner (Ren Osugi) and a vengeful spirit that inhabits the hair that continues to grow from her body after death.
The young woman was a victim of the illegal organ trade and died under horrific circumstances. Her supernatural rage is spread to more victims by the hair-obsessive and mentally ill Yamazaki who sells her rapidly growing hair to hairdressers. The film’s protagonist therefore has to be a hairdresser, someone who might be very familiar to the Western audience as the insanely sadistic Gogo Yubari from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2004). Yuko (Chiaki Kuriyama)’s an apprentice at the local hair salon where she and her young colleagues soon get free samples of haunted hair extensions that host the grudge of a restless spirit.
Sono’s strength and his way with characters really show in Exte and give the film a new and engaging depth. Yuko’s older sister is also a familiar face; the hedonistic and selfish Kiyomi is played by Tsugumi, who was the main antagonist in Noriko’s Dinner Table, also directed by Sion Sono. Tsugumi’s performance was outstanding in that film and she brings nothing less to the table in Exte. Kiyomi is more than just mean to her eight year old daughter Mami (Miku Sato), as it’s revealed when Yuko discovers bruises on her body. She’s violent and abusive and she also knows how to strike a nerve with words that’s perhaps best exemplified when she tells Yuko that she’s only protective of Mami because she had killed her own child when she had an abortion.
The characters made me just as interested in Exte as the unfolding high-concept horror. The film has a gripping backstory with Yuko having to fight her sister while trying to protect Mami from the constant abuse she’s subjected to. Their relationship is really moving as they get to know each other in the absence of Kiyomi; Yuko soon begins to teach Mami she doesn’t have to be afraid of grown-ups hitting her, because not everyone’s like her mother. However, I also marvelled Sono’s ability to make such an odd – if not ridiculous – idea so genuinely disturbing.
When the haunted hair extensions come into contact with people, hair begins to grow from all orifices – including eye sockets – not to mention the horrific visions of the original victim’s last moments alive. I found hair growing from inside the mouth particularly unpleasant to watch. Sion Sono’s unique ways with film making makes me reluctant to put Exte: Hair Extensions in the same category as Ring, Ju-on: The Grudge or Dark Water (2002), but that’s not a statement of disapproval nor is it an endorsement. While it’s unmistakably a traditional vengeful spirit horror film, it’s also a Sion Sono film that bears his fingerprints in every scene – it’s the collision of these two worlds that got me intrigued to begin with, and Exte turned out to be a very satisfying outcome.
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.