★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
The gilded halls of meta-horror brilliance just got a bit more crowded.
Directed by Shin’ichirô Ueda.
One Cut Of The Dead was a school project. A partially-funded-by-crowdsourcing, the-actor/students-paid-to-be-in-it, made for $23,000 school project. All of the actors are students of Enbu Seminar, a film school in Tokyo, and this movie was a workshop (a.k.a., a class) made under the school’s Cinema Project banner. With that kind of pedigree you’d be forgiven if you had a moment of doubt when trying to decide whether or not to see it. Truth be told, I had a moment of doubt before pressing [PLAY] even after seeing the trailer. Scratch that. Especially after seeing the trailer. “Please,” I prayed to The Great Old Ones Beyond The Veil. “Don’t let this be another micro-budget zombie movie.”
Much to my surprise They listened.
What ultimately had me pressing play was the promise of a 37-minute long take with one camera in a zombie movie. No cuts. The logistics of that is horrific enough on its own! It’s like trying to build a scale model of the Great Pyramid of Giza with three of your best friends, two cases of beer, and a blindfolded donkey in one afternoon. You’re either going to fail completely or someone’s going to get seriously injured in the process. But! And this is a big, beautiful 37-minute “but”… they did it. One take. One camera. Thirty-seven minutes. It was a wonder to behold.
It told the story of a film crew making a low-budget zombie movie in an abandoned Japanese World War II military installation. Supposedly, it was a water filtration plant, but word on the street said it had been used by the Japanese military for secret experiments in bringing the dead back to life. Natch. Maybe not a good spot for a family picnic, but hey! Great location for a zombie movie. That is, until the overzealous director calls forth the undead to bring more realism to his crappy little movie.
Sure, it wasn’t 28 Days Later (2002). There were awkward pauses by the actors, scenes that went on too long, and special effects that weren’t particularly special. And then Ueda’s brilliance kicked in.
Without giving too much away — and I don’t think I am since it’s a 96 minute movie and I’ve only described 37 minutes of it — this is where One Cut Of The Dead shifts gears. Every awkward pause, every slip-and-fall of the cameraman, every overly extended scene, every single second of that 37 minutes is cleverly, actively, and thoroughly explained. Up to and including the reason behind the whole low-budget zombie movie itself.
One Cut Of The Dead is a showcase for the heart, dedication, and passion that making movies is all about. Takayuki Hamatsu puts in an inspired performance as Mr. “I’m fast, cheap, but average” Higurashi, director of the doomed zombie flick. Harumi Shuhama who plays his wife and make-up artist, Nao, has the comedic timing of an industry veteran. Yuzuki Akiyama and Kazuaki Nagaya bring astounding energy to the screen as J-Pop-Idol-Turned-Actress, Chinatsu, and entitled teen heartthrob, Ko.
Very much a zombie-based horror/comedy — or, ZomCom — One Cut Of The Dead is full of irreverent jokes at the film industry’s expense. Not mean-spirited in any way; more as a kind of roast of the process. It’s a tongue-in-cheek peek behind the curtain hiding the “magic” of filmmaking. Giving us a glimpse of the difficulties and ridiculousness that are often part and parcel of getting our favorite genre up onto the silver screen.
This movie is as must see as they get. If you’re a fan of the horror genre, do yourself a favor: watch the trailer, avoid all spoilers, and go see this film. Trust me, this is one of those experiences that’s best when you know very little about it. For you lucky folks in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida sphere of influence, your chance to see it is coming up fast! Catch the East Coast Premiere at Savor Cinema at 11pm on August 16th as part of the wonderful insanity that is the Popcorn Frights Film Festival.