Sometimes, what happens behind the camera can be even more exciting than what is in front of it. And nowhere is this more evident than in One Cut Of The Dead, a quirky and unconventional film about well... a quirky and unconventional zombie film.
It is not going to be easy to write this review: due to the story’s nature, telling almost anything about it could be a spoiler. In fact, this is the sort of film where the less you know about it while going in, the more you will enjoy it. So honestly, if you’re interested in this, you should stop reading this review now and head to the cinema as soon as possible!
But OK, if you HAVE to know more: here’s the best, non-spoilerly synopsis we can give. Director Takayuki Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is a film director who will do anything for a pay cheque: in fact, he’s known in the industry for being “fast, cheap and average”. He gets approached by a television company, who wants to hire him to make a zombie film.
And yes, the walking dead may be horrifying, but that’s not the truly scary thing about this project. They want to shoot and broadcast the movie LIVE on television, and in one continuous, uninterrupted shot. Which – anyone whose ever done live TV knows – is incredibly difficult due to the sheer propensity of things that can go wrong.
And boy, do things go spectacularly wrong for Takayuki indeed.
But he presses on to make the movie, aided by his spirited crew. These include his good-natured lead actress Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akayama), Ko, (Kazauki Nagaya) a vain actor from a boyband cast for his good looks and Nao (Harumi Syuhama), Takayuki’s wife who doubles as their makeup lady.
Directed by Shinichiro Ueda, One Cut Of The Dead is a rollercoaster of a film. Most audience members, honestly, will spend the first third of it in confusion. The film’s story at that point is hard to understand, and how this story is executed... well, it has to be seen to be believed. Some may even be tempted to walk out.
But stay until a certain point, where everything is revealed, and the film turns from awful to awesome. Strange decisions and weird cinematic choices will suddenly make sense, and One Cut Of The Dead becomes an uproariously, gut-burstingly funny satire on zombie movies. It even manages to be touching at parts. After watching this, you may never see any zombie film (or even any big-budget blockbuster) in the same way again.
One Cut Of The Dead is the unlikely champion of the Japanese box office this year. The film was made with a low budget of three million yen (RM110, 694), with all its actors being unknowns. It opened in one theatre in Japan and ran for six days. However, the film started to draw attention after winning the runner-up prize at the Udine Far East Festival in Italy last year.
From there, One Cut Of The Dead began picking up steam through word of mouth, and eventually, was showing in 200 screens in Japan by March 2018. It travelled to Fantastic Fest, an annual film festival in Austin, Texas, devoted to horror and genre films, where it won the audience vote award. As of now, it’s grossed 800 million yen: over 25 times its budget!
And it’s easy to see why the film has been successful: it’s just a load of fun. Despite being unknowns, the cast members do a terrific job, particularly Hamatsu, who anchors the film in his role as the incredibly passionate film director. Also a delight is Syuhama, whose character Nao gets into crazy circumstances beyond her control.
One Cut Of The Dead is certainly testament to the fact that you don’t need a big budget to create a wildly entertaining show.
More interestingly, it will probably make you appreciate the hard work that goes into the making of any film. It will make you realise the tireless efforts of the many people behind the scenes of any production, whose payment is usually just a small pay cheque and their name in the credits (which face it, who really reads?).
Zombie films may be old hat nowadays, but this film manages to breathe new life into this genre, in a crazy way only the Japanese could do. Expect your heart and your funnybone to be severely skewered by this remarkable One Cut Of The Dead.
One Cut Of The Dead
Director: Shinichiro Ueda
Cast: Takayuki Hamatsu, Mao, Harumi Shuhama, Yuzuki Akiyama