Naoki Murahashi’s new feature mockumentary, Extro, doesn’t feel like one at first, and that speaks to the brilliance of it. The featured actors are largely playing satirized versions of themselves, and personally, it took until around the sixteen minute mark so for that fact to settle in with the geniusness already in progress.
To add, that the film is actor Kozo Haginoya’s feature debut certainly does wonders, and he plays the part expertly. He’s a farmer whose son works in dentistry, and when he’s not busy farming, he’s a listed volunteer background actor working on replicated film and television sets at Warp Station Edo in Tuskubamirai. His heart is in the right place, but oftentimes his eccentricities get the best of him while shooting, often resulting in multiple frustrating takes. And this is just one of several frustrating instances Extro illustrates in the due process of a set production.
Haginoya is actually one of several subjects of the film, in addition to president and PR president of his extras-hiring agency, Lark, Kazuya Hirao and Kazuko Kurosawa. Also featured are actors Koji Yamamoto, Yasufumi Terawaki and professional wrestler Tatsumi Fujimami, and even the mayor of Tsukubamirai himself, Hiroshi Odagawa, gets in on the fun, spoofing himself as he is interviewed and speaking proudly about his town, only to end up name-dropping that of a controversial someone he probably shouldn’t have mentioned.
The film gracefully pivots its focus from other troubling extras in a brilliant series of events that turn the film into a hilarious crime caper in which two police inspectors go undercover to catch a drug pusher who has been volunteering as an extra under an alias. Actress Yuki Saito makes a spectacular cameo appearance during this particular chapter as well, as does Murahashi’s inclusion of a madcap story arc involving a nearby temple, and a mythological flying duck monster.
By the third act of the film, the underlying message of Extro is how the work of being an extra on set permeates around these particular people. It’s not at all a paying trade to work in, but these people wholeheartedly find themselves at their best when they’re on set. Moreover, intial protagonist, Haginoya, is the embodiment of what it means to stick with something you love in order to achieve a particular lifelong dream. Indeed he gets his shining moment, and he lives it out in a scene that couldn’t have been better delivered.
Several parts filmmaking odyssey, other parts cop comedy and found footage schtick, Extro is a fun eighty-eight minutes of comedic, sublime cinema with heart. For something more reverent and narrative, I would recommend Ken Ochiai’s Uzumasa Limelight or Masaharu Take’s In The Hero, but this one is definitely for the Top Knot Detective crowd. It’s less on the gonzo side of things, but it’ll bring you some chuckles all the same.