AKA Ekusute; AKA Exte; AKA Hair Extensions
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DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono
FEATURING: , Miku Satô, , Ken Mitsuishi
PLOT: A woman’s corpse found in a human-hair-filled shipping container spews forth beautiful black hair, inflicting grisly fates upon those who use it as hair extensions.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Paranormal hair attacks alternate with domestic drama, making a strange weave of narrative that slides the viewer ever more tightly between its strands as it braids into a frightening, heartwarming climax.
COMMENTS: You may note that the word “hair” appears three times in the plot description. This is not enough times. The hair in Exte is ubiquitous, vexing its victims in increasingly strange ways. An extension harvested from an organ-harvest victim poises itself ominously at the ear canal of its wearer; a stylist is bombarded with harrowing recollections of illegal surgery. The hair tips jab into her brain, and she jabs her scissors into the side of her customer’s head. Later, the victim’s daughter views a violent, bloody thrashing through a hair-cut gash in door of the cupboard where she hides. An apartment window smashes outward as copious human hair bursts through the living space. And those are just small snips of the sinister proceedings.
Simultaneously, we hear the story of Mizushima Yoku, an up-and-coming young stylist who cheerily bombards an unseen audience with exposition—a habit that she and a co-worker picked up from a crummy television show. At work, Yoku cheerfully goes about her styling under the firm, but kind, tutelage of the master stylist. She has a jerk-bag sister, Kiyomi, who abandons her submissive daughter at Yoku’s house for a few days while Kiyomi goes out to party with her scum boyfriend. This mix of filial tension and sober depiction of child abuse exists as its own story universe while, on the other side of the narrative, a creepy coroner with a hair fetish steals the body of a mystically charged woman who grows hair at a furious pace in response to the wrongs she endured. When paths cross, as they must do, things get… hairy.
Exte juggles its tones so deftly that it’s only upon reflection that it dawns that Sion Sono is up to something very strange. To be sure, the hair-murder set pieces made me want to cheer Exte on. But the fusion of that strand with small gauge melo-tragedy is simultaneously incongruent and perfectly blended—like a cunning weave of ever so slightly off-colored hair done at the hands of a master stylist. And this tangle of a reaction has barely even mentionedas the manic-pixie-psycho-coroner, all creepiness, whimsy, and song in his seaside shack-cum-shrine to beautiful human hair.
Sono proves once again a master stylist, lovingly curling this absurd story together from its disparate strands (in case this all was coming across as too simple, there’s also “police procedural” thrown into the mix, as detectives investigate the increasing body count). The perfect pacing, balance of soft and terror lighting, and the finessed performances calibrated to a scissor-edge between high drama and silly splatter are a sheer delight.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Even by the standards of Japanese horror movies, Exte is a very weird film. This is a movie all about hair, not just tangentially but intrinsically. Hair isn’t the McGuffin, it’s not the setting, it’s everything.” — M.J. Simpson, MJ Simpson Films (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by Chris Thurlow, who describes it as “a possibly weird film about a man obsessed with hair who, while working in a police morgue, discovers a woman’s body that continues to grow copious amounts of hair despite the fact that she is dead.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)