Ladies, has this ever happened to you? Your stylist has just installed some new tracks of the hair you bought. Now you've got the length and fullness you've been dying for. If somebody turned on an industrial fan, you'd be Beyoncé. But while you're tidying up your apartment, you feel something curling around your neck. Your new hair has just strangled you dead. If that's a problem you can relate to, then "Hair Extensions" might be as well be a documentary of your life.
But that would be impossible since this Japanese horror movie, which opens today at the Brattle, is weirder than anything life could offer. Directed and co-written by Sion Sono, "Hair Extensions" is loosely the story of, well, who can say. The plot is told in strands (forgive me) that eventually get tangled up (again, my bad). A junior stylist named Yuko (Chiaki Kuriyama) is stuck babysitting the abused daughter (Miku Sato) of her party-starting sister (Tsugumi), and Yuko's roommate (Megumi Sato) is the sort of aspiring hip-hop dancer whose troupe would clean up on "America's Best Dance Crew." These two spend the first bunch of scenes pretending they're on their own TV drama, which, whenever Yuko's sister is around, they are.
On the other side of town, customs officers have just found a bald corpse inside a giant shipment of human hair. They think her missing organs are being harvested. Boy, are they in the wrong movie. The night watchman at the morgue (Ren Osugi) knows what's up. He's seen the hair growing out of cuts and orifices, and its grotesque appetite clearly turns him on. He shows up at Yuko's training salon, selling the hair ("Exte" in Japanese slang) from that shipment to the owners.
The movie is split between the monster movie and Yuko's family drama. Both halves are suspended in quotation marks. This is one of the few Japanese horror movies (or J-horror) that comes in clearer as satirical comedy. It's not as broad or as winking as its American counterparts, not a spoof so much as a grinning critique of movies, of trends, of seriousness. J-horror has given us killer websites, killer apartments, and killer VHS cassettes. Now Sono positions his killer hair as a ridiculous last stand (the souls of the original owners are unhappy) and his star, jokingly, in a rare state of chipper vulnerability. (Kuriyama is famous over here for her "Kill Bill" role as Gogo, the mace-wielding punk in the school uniform. But she's maturing into an actor with a great, expressive face for the movies.)
One of the blurbs for "Hair Extensions" promises that the movie is too strange for an American knock-off. I beg to differ. A South Los Angeles remake starring Raven-Symoné and Rihanna needs a green light. It'd be called "Weavz!"
All the nuttiness works, too. That dance the night watchman does around his hair lair in a leotard feels like a gag on the serial killer's notorious shimmy in "The Silence of the Lambs." And when things get tense at Yuko's, the desperate call she makes to her roommate interrupts her dance crew's hilarious rehearsals. The special effects are sweetly substandard - hair oozing from eye sockets and mouths look as if Bjork might have drawn them on with a Sharpie. When the giant nest of extensions goes on the attack it's scary insofar as it appears that Tyra Banks's hair has finally lost its mind.