Director: Shinichiro Ueda
Cast: Takayuki Hamatsu, Mao, Harumi Syuhama, Kazuaki Nagaya
Runtime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 24 January 2019
Synopsis: The film opens in a run-down, abandoned warehouse where a film crew are making a zombie film... Yet, this is no ordinary warehouse. It's been said that it's the site of where military experiments took place... Out of nowhere, real zombies arrive and terrorize the crew! This may sound like the plot of a clichéd zombie film, but One Cut of the Dead is something completely different! Starting off with a non-stop one-take 37-minute shot, the film then completely switches direction and turns the zombie genre completely upside down into a charming, audience-friendly comedy!
Arriving more than a year later after its initial one-week theatrical run in a Tokyo arthouse cinema, writer-director Shinchiro Ueda’s zombie comedy ‘One Cut of the Dead’ is already a cult classic, after touring film festivals around the world and a subsequent wider re-release in its own home territory that propelled it to become the eighth-highest grossing local film last year.
Even so, we assiduously avoided reading too much about the movie before stepping into it, and we advise that you do likewise in order not to diminish how much fun you’ll have with it; just as well, let us reassure you that we have been careful here not to give away any of the delightful surprises that the film springs at you.
With that in mind, here’s what we will say – it begins, as most articles will tell you, with a single 37-minute long take of a small film crew shooting a lo-fi zombie movie encountering real zombies in a disused water filtration plant, where legend has it that the Japanese army had experimented with re-animating the dead back in World War II.
Notwithstanding the technical achievement, you’ll probably be less than impressed with the take itself. The footage is grainy, and the acoustics are bad. It also isn’t terribly engaging, going from one extended chase scene to another and padded with close-ups that sometimes go on for just way long. Neither too are the zombies or the carnage convincing, the former in part due to the cheap prosthetics and the latter due to the copious amounts of patently fake blood.
But don’t dismiss the movie just yet, because you’ll come to marvel at the brilliance of Ueda’s concept and execution if you stick with it till the finish.
Following that gimmicky first act, we are brought back one month earlier to the genesis of the film-within-a-film, which was in fact intended as a live television broadcast for an all-zombie channel.
Bit by bit, layer by layer, we learn of how that production was assembled, acquaint ourselves with the idiosyncrasies of its cast and crew, and realise how the final product we saw at the start was as much scripted as it was improvised on the set itself, owing to unforeseen circumstances that include traffic jams, inebriation and delicate bowels.
That is probably all you should know going into this meta-fictional movie, which eschews the usual metaphor and/or satire of such zombie comedies and instead embraces the ups and downs of budget filmmaking.
From managing the demands of name actors, to compromises on artistic integrity, to constraints on budget, and right down to on-set boo-boos, Ueda lays it all out in the next two acts that cover both pre-production and the actual shoot. The latter in particular celebrates the ingenuity and quick-wittedness of the cast and crew, so much so that you’ll come to appreciate what had seemed off in the first act in an entirely different light, especially in the context of the heroic on-the-spot rescues that ultimately prevented the cock-ups from sinking the whole effort.
By the time we reach the gleeful conclusion and come to see how that crane shot was accomplished, you’ll very likely be won over by the heart and humour of the onscreen cast and crew which made it happen, as well as by Ueda’s playful sense of chaos in conceptualising and executing one of the most original zombie comedies we’ve seen in a very long while. It’s mighty clever all right, and a delightful ode to the craziness and exhilaration of filmmaking on a tight miniscule budget.
Like we said, don’t go spoiling it for yourself by reading too much about it at all; just know that it all pays off handsomely by the end, and hang on all the way for an infectiously entertaining meta-experience that will surely win you over.
(One of the most original and inventive movies you'll see this year, this film-within-a-zombie-film comedy is a delightful ode to the ups and downs of indie filmmaking)
Review by Gabriel Chong