Worthy but flawed
Herzog has always alternated between narrative films and documentaries. So far, I hadn't seen much of his older docs, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner is the first I've seen and heralded by Herzog himself as one of his most important films. Can't say I understand why though.
Steiner is a famed sky flyer (pretty much the same as ski jumping, only they go a lot further still) who broke several records in his time by crossing the farthest posts on the slopes. Herzog follows him around, detailing the dangers and appeal of the sport while underlying the often amateurish organization of the events.
While the close-ups and slo-mo footage of the jumps are quite nice, in the end it's still a pretty basic documentary about an athlete. One whose records have long since been beaten. Herzog makes the best of it and his enthusiasm makes sure that even people who don't care for the sport get something out of it, but in the end it's really not that special.
Herzog goes to Japan to make a film about a company that hires out actors, who become hired friends and/or family members for a day. It's not really a novel concept, but Herzog's documentary-style offers a new approach and the fact that the lead actor is also doing this job in real life adds a little intrigue.
Sadly the film itself is quite poor. Herzog feels lost in Japan and apart from some template shots (like Shibuya Crossing) ends up giving off a very touristy vibe. The film looks quite ugly, the music is ill-fitting and because of the form I expected Herzog's voice to pop up and give commentary on the story.
The performances are quite poor too and the fragmented setup doesn't really add much. It's a failed experiment that might've worked better as an actual documentary rather than a feature film. It's weird that Herzog didn't see this himself, as he's quite fond of making documentaries. Not good at all.