A much-needed tonic not just for weary audiences, but for a weary genre, in what is arguably one of the most hilarious movies to come out in recent years.
Dir. Shin’ichirô Ueda
2017 | Japan | Comedy/Horror | 96 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
NC16 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Cast: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama
Plot: Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.
International Sales: Nikkatsu / Third Window Films
Singapore Distributor: Shaw Organisation
Subject Matter: Light/Dark Humour
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Mainstream
(Reviewed at the Japanese Film Festival ’19)
Being picked for the Audience Choice Award at the Singapore International Film Festival last year is no surprise to anyone who has seen what could be one of the most hilarious movies to come out in recent years. One Cut of the Dead by Shin’ichirô Ueda, who served as writer, director and editor, is a much-needed tonic not just for weary audiences wary about ‘another indie zombie-type movie’, but for a weary genre in desperate need for some invention.
And indeed, themes of experimentation and improvisation are brought to the forefront as the film centers on a director and his film crew trying to shoot a low-budget zombie movie in an abandoned Japanese WWII facility. One Cut of the Dead is a clever piece of meta-cinema, and doesn’t resort to fantasy or supernatural elements to make its ideas work, although it plays around with those temptations.
There are at least four layers to the movie. Fed up with unnatural acting by the lead actress acting opposite an attacking zombie, the director seems to have ‘summoned the spirits’ in the bid to achieve performative authenticity when real zombies start to attack the cast and crew. These are the two foundational layers, where the supernatural uncannily ‘seeps’ into a fictional realist world. There is already a meta-quality to it, albeit one that is well-contained within its filmic world.
The first 37 minutes was actually shot in one take. It took two days and six takes for the crew to get the perfect one.
The third layer reveals itself in the first big twist—that what transpired from the get go was actually a roughly 40-minute long film with its own end credits to boot, similarly titled ‘One Cut of the Dead’. Now we have a zombie film about a director making a zombie film within Ueda’s film. The rest of Ueda’s picture then depends heavily on the meta-artifices of long-take filmmaking and live broadcasting, providing the film with some of the most relentlessly potent comic devices.
A TV station is hoping to launch their first ‘Zombie Channel’ with an outrageous offering—a live broadcast of a zombie movie that comes into being in the process of coming into being. In other words, it is almost like shooting a stage play on live television. This is the fourth layer where Ueda’s film is about a hired director making a zombie film about a director making a zombie film, and due to unforeseen circumstances, plays the director himself in his own self-directed work. Ueda, of course, is the mastermind—the Director of directors if you will.
The technical and relational challenges of filmmaking are smartly interwoven into the fabric of this expansive meta-quilt, surely resonating with anyone who has ever tried making a film, and might possibly enlighten audiences unbeknownst to the struggles of indie filmmaking.
At the heart of it all is a family—a father, mother and their daughter rekindling a mutual passion; a weary director and his ‘zombified’ cast and crew finally calling it a wrap; and Ueda and co making it happen by going through that very same process. This is perhaps where a fifth layer might emerge, one that is marked by meta self-reflexivity. But forget all of that, One Cut of the Dead is an accessible and highly-entertaining piece of cinema.