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Exte: Hair Extensions

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Exte: Hair Extensions
cast: Chiaki Kuriyama, Ren Osugi, and Megumi Sato

director: Sion Sono

108 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
A girl's body is found in a cargo container full of human hair. Her organs have been harvested, and when pathologists re-open the incision, hair sprouts from the wound. This corpse comes to the attention of Gunji Yamazaki (Ren Osugi), a morgue worker with an unhealthy interest in women's hair. He finds that, in a short space of time, hair has grown on the body - not just on its shaved head, but also from areas such as its tongue. Intrigued and excited, Yamazaki doesn't clip the corpse's hair for his collection as he usually would, but steals the corpse and takes it home. The body continues to sprout unnatural amounts of hair, which Yamazaki cuts off and gives away as material for hair extensions (with a view to selling more later). Then the women who wear the extensions find themselves under attack - from their new hair.

Twenty-year-old Yuko Mizushima (Chiaki Kuriyama) has dreams of being a hair stylist, but seems to spend most of her time sweeping up cuttings at the salon where she works. She also has a monstrous half-sister named Kiyomi (Tsugumi), who thinks nothing of sweeping into Yuko's home, trashing the place, and taking what she wants - even worse, Kiyomi beats her own daughter, Mami (Miku Sato), until the girl comes up in bruises. When Yuko notices this and confronts her sister about it, the argument ends with Mami staying permanently with Yuko. And, one day, a strange man walks into the salon carrying a bird cage filled with hair extensions; and he can't help noticing Yuko, because she has such lovely hair...

The idea of haunted hair extensions is, let's be honest, rather silly; credit is due, then, to Sion Sono for making a genuinely unsettling film from the concept (though the movie does keep its tongue in its cheek at times). The first 'death by hair extensions' scene is one of the most brutally effective sequences I can remember seeing in a long time: a stylist wearing the extensions is working on someone's hair when the extensions burrow into her ear, and the stylist sees visions of the dead girl's final memories, as she was held down and her hair roughly chopped off, prior to the 'operation'. These visions become intertwined with reality in the stylist's mind, and she takes her rage out on the customer. Difficult though this scene is to watch, it is all the more effective for what it doesn't show (we don't see the aftermath of the stylist's attack, just a little girl peering in through the window and saying, "Mommy, this shop is red"). Yet there's humour, too, as time goes on, with the manifestations of supernatural hair turning ever more preposterous. Ren Osugi, as Yamazaki, also covers this full range: Yamazaki starts out as creepy-but-silly, gets more and more ridiculous, but also nasty, as we discover what a misogynist he is; and has become genuinely menacing by his final scenes.

But the problem I have with the horror aspect of Exte (aka: Ekusute) is that I don't follow the logic behind the extensions' attacks. If the first stylist becomes possessed by the spirit of the dead girl (which is how I read that scene), why does she start imitating one of the surgeons who were harvesting organs? I would have thought the girl would be seeking revenge against those people (as appears to be happening at the end). Does she want to punish those women who seek the beauty that she herself was denied? That's the only reason I can think of for attacking the women who just said yes to hair extensions, or at least the only one I can think of that makes sense - otherwise the victims are just random. Anyway, the effects of this apparent lack of rationale are to weaken the story, and to lessen the impact of the occasions when the hair turns on the characters that, it could be argued, deserve their comeuppance, because they become just more of those seemingly random victims. The ending of the film is also somewhat unsatisfying, because it feels arbitrary, as the hair is effectively 'defeated' by coincidence.

Though the horror is, as it were, the 'main feature', there is another side to Exte, that doesn't shout about itself but is, on reflection, probably better handled overall. This is the personal story of Yuko and Mami. Both characters go through the wringer, to put it mildly; especially Mami, who has known nothing but abuse, and can only relate to others deferentially. By the end of the movie, both she and Yuko gain better lives. Perhaps more could have been made of this strand, as it is quite understated within the film. As it is, the horror looms larger in the mind when watching Exte; and on that score it could be better. It's good for the bizarre, absurd death scenes, and the odd creepy moment; but the film really needs more than that.

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