One Cut of the Dead

Man, how do you talk about this film?  One Cut of the Dead is a Japanese movie from 2017, which is basically about a film crew doing a zombie movie in an interesting location, who suddenly find themselves under attack from real zombies. An even bigger problem is that this seems to be how the film’s director wants it!

The movie was written and directed by Shin’ichirō Ueda, and was made for an incredibly low budget (around $25,000) and over time ended up making something like a thousand times its budget in revenue.

Spoilers ahead (Sort of, anyway)

If I limit my description to the above, it misses out a lot.  But if I say much more, it actually could derail some of the movie experience.  It makes it a tricky movie to talk about. 

What I will say is this:  I normally gravitate pretty hard away from zombie movies.  The whole genre has always been off-putting to me, and I have steered pretty strongly clear from it.  So, no Night of the Living Dead, no Walking Dead, no World War Z.  But I did watch One Cut of the Dead on the strong recommendation from my friend Rod (who I watched it with). 

And for a big chunk of time while I watched it, I wondered why Rod was so enthusiastic about showing it to me.  I sat there, watching an endless stream of predictable jump scares, awkward acting, and copious amounts of artificial blood and  gruesome but obviously fake dismemberment effects, trying to figure out what I was going to say to Rod when it was all over. 

Well, to jump ahead, when it was all over, I told him pretty much exactly that, but that by the time it was over my impressions of the movie had changed from “general dislike / disinterest” to “overwhelmingly positive.”  I just can’t say how the movie did this without giving away its tricks. 

But I will say more after this paragraph is over, beyond the second Spoiler Tag.  If you haven’t seen the movie and are at all interested, I’d recommend not reading past that point—just go and watch it.  And skip the trailer, the advanced information, and even the DVD menu screen.  If you are like me and are generally put off by zombies, blood and obvious horror, then all I can say is hang in there and trust that it’ll all pay off, even for non-horror fans like myself.

MORE SPOILERS–BIGGER, LOUDER, UNCUT

If you have already watched this movie, then you already know, that about 40 minutes into the movie, One Cut of the Dead stops being a one-take film, and it stops being grainy footage, and it stops being a horror movie at all.  Instead, in one of the biggest change-ups in all my years of movie viewing, it becomes a heartwarming behind-the-scenes filmmaking comedy.

The story focuses on the efforts of director Takayuki Higurashi (Takayuki Shumatsu) to pull together his latest filmmaking job, to create a one-take zombie film which is intended to be broadcast live as part of a gimmick for a new Zombie Channel.  We see the various challenges that he must deal with, including a superficial starlet, a moody star, and various other problems including a strained relationship with his daughter. 

This is all interesting but a little confusing—it’s clear what’s going on but when it first gets here, it’s hard to know what the point of it all is.  But then the movie gets to the final section, where we see everything that is going on during the making of original one-take film, and that’s where the movie really delivers the gold.  Suddenly, everything pays off—all the awkward acting, clumsy camerawork, stilted dialogue and bizarre story choices.  It all pays off, and it’s altogether heartwarming and hilarious.

Best of all is the behavior of Nao, the internal film’s makeup artist, who became increasingly intense and unpredictable as the initial one-take film continued.  It turns out that she is being played by the director’s wife (played in reality by Harumi Shuhama), and has filled in at the last minute when the original actress became unavailable.  She is revealed to have been a former actress who dropped out of the profession because she became too lost in her roles…which is exactly what happens here.  She is so funny and enjoyable that she is almost makes the film watching all by herself.

The world of movies is full of a lot of films about filmmaking.  Some are mediocre, some are good, I’m sure some are bad, and some are brilliant.  For it’s originality and surprising structure, One Cut of the Dead ranks as one of my favorite.

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