‘One Cut of the Dead’ opens with a film crew shooting a low-budget zombie film at an abandoned water filtration plant. The fiery director, Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), insults the actors and eventually storms off the set. As the actors get their make-up reapplied and wait for him to return, a real zombie apocalypse begins... to the delight of Higurashi, who insists that the omnipresent camera operator continue filming.
Consisting of a 37-minute long single-take scene featuring the crew being attacked by a ravenous flesh-eating creatures and then chasing each other throughout the complex where they're shooting, writer/director Shinichiro Ueda manages to throw in a couple of twists and turns amongst the head-lopping action. It’s an attention-grabbing opening and not unlike the found footage horror of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's 'REC'.
After this short-length horror film ends, ‘One Cut of the Dead’ rewinds to tell the story of the production of the film and its broadcast on an all-zombie television channel (a tiny, cheerful executive thinks that the publicity from a one-take half-hour show will be an instant sensation). Then we fast forward in time to see some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of the sequence.
Made for a mere 3 million Japanese Yen (around $30k in Australian dollaroos), with a cast of unknown actors assembled by Shinichiro Ueda after participating in workshops at the Enbu Seminar drama school in Tokyo, ‘One Cut of the Dead’ is a gore-streaked gem of independent filmmaking.
The film has three different acts that elegantly navigate through several genres - it is very difficult to summarise without spoiling. Once it reveals how everything fits together, you can appreciate the moments during the initial zombie attack segment where the plot seems to become nonsensical or the actors appear to adlib. Superficial comparisons could be made to ‘Tropic Thunder’, about a group of prima donna actors making a fictional Vietnam War film, and there are some early parts that may look similar, but it goes much further than Ben Stiller’s film in terms of deconstruction of the genre. Other similarities could be drawn to Chris Smith’s ‘American Movie’, chronicling the real 1996–97 making of ‘Coven’, an independent horror film directed by wingnut filmmaker Mark Borchardt. However, ‘One Cut of the Dead’ is far warmer and much, much funnier. It's like Tom DiCillo's 'Living in Oblivion', with a hint of Olivier Assayas' 'Irma Vep', but lighter and with zombies.
Made for mere 3 million Japanese Yen (around $30k in Australian dollaroos), with a cast of unknown actors assembled by Shinichiro Ueda after participating in workshops at the Enbu Seminar drama school in Tokyo, ‘One Cut of the Dead’ is a gore-streaked gem of independent filmmaking.
The film dives into the idea of what constitutes entertainment, with executives and agents constantly making specific demands from the crew of the live shoot. It also peeks into the backstage exploits of the industry: self-absorbed actors stuck in roles they don't want to be in, cinematographers longing to have their artistic impulses indulged, frantic stage-hands trying to appease their bosses and the ingenious, MacGuyver-style guerrilla tactics that must be employed to ensure that a low-budget shoot goes off smoothly.
It also embraces some popular Japanese themes: the importance of family (the director has a tender relationship with his young, aimless daughter and supportive wife, a former actress) and teamwork, as the production crew rallies around their beleaguered leader to ensure his film is completed, no matter what obstacles they encounter.
Shinichiro Ueda hasn’t just created a laugh-out-loud, heart-warming comedy, he has also done an amazing job of documenting the process of getting out an independent production in Japan. ‘One Cut of the Dead’ is a supremely inventive cinematic triptych that amuses and warms the heart in equal measure, and should appeal to casual movie-goers, horror movie fans and film buffs alike.