'One Cut of the Dead' Review

Updated on April 3, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

One Cut of the Dead starts with one of the oldest tricks in the book. A pretty girl is being attacked by her zombie boyfriend in what appears to be an abandoned old factory. When the zombie is about to devour the poor girl, someone yells "cut!" and the action stops. That's right, we're watching an amateur zombie movie been made.

"Cute" is the first thing one thinks, perhaps tired of seeing the same narrative trick as the intro of lots of different movies.

But the joke is on us, because One Cut of the Dead is only teasing what’s next.

We quickly meet actress Chinatsu (played by Yuzuki Akiyama), actor Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya), makeup artist Nao (Harumi Shuhama), assistant director Kasahara (Hiroshi Ichihara) and director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatso).

The director is deeply disappointed with Chinatsu's performance and after 42 takes, he's unhinged. He screams at Chinatsu. He even slaps Ko. Nao, who also seems to be doing some assistance in production, decides to calm things down by setting a 30-minute break.

During all this time, the camera hasn't stopped. We are watching a single shot since the beginning.

We already know what's coming, right? Yeah. Kasahara is attacked by a real zombie on the exterior of the abandoned factory and soon enough, reality and fiction cross paths. Now, the cast & crew of this zombie movie must survive a real zombie outbreak.

To make everything odder, director Higurashi, even knowing that they are facing real zombies, seems so obsessed with making a good movie, that he doesn't stop recording with his own camera and even put "traps" so that his cast & crew are forced to face the zombies. The director is completely won over to the new "meta" movie that life has offering him and he doesn't intend to waste that opportunity for a second.

The "one cut" is great. The camera doesn't cut for a moment--I only suspect a single hidden cut, and I couldn't assure it--and the choreography, even within a single location, is quite extensive, complex and dynamic.

During the vast majority of the single take, the tension works because the camera behaves like a found footage, but without its restrictions. The person who manages the camera is omnipresent and doesn't belong to the story.

Or at least that's what you think, until almost at the end, when the director shouts directly at the camera "don't stop recording!". We are left confused.

There are other odd, clumsy moments in the single take, which one ends up forgiving because of the massive challenge and the low budget involved. There are times when the camera seems to stay too long in the screams of the actress like it's making time for the makeup crew to establish the special effect of a woman with an ax stuck in her head.

The single take ends with a clumsy vertical camera movement, necessary to establish that Chinatsu, the only survivor, is standing on a strange star drawing created with blood, establishing that some kind of satanic ritual was behind the zombie outbreak. The credits begin to roll.

It's a quite satisfactory "one cut", which also surprises the audience because time feel shorter. It all happened kinda quickly. And yes, similar things have already been done in the past, but this effort by Japanese director Shinichirô Ueda is quite interesting.

Now, do you think that's all? I told you that the joke was on us.

One felt that the "one cut" happened very fast, because, in fact, with the included final credits, only 30 minutes have passed. And that's when One Cut Of The Dead launches its masterful punchline and ends up becoming a fantastic comedy about amateur filmmaking.

The movie continues, this time without a handheld camera, but with more traditional cinematography. We meet director Higurashi in his family environment. He's quite different. He's kind, shy and humble.

It turns out that the actress who was playing the makeup artist in the "one cut" is actually his wife. The family is completed by her daughter Mao (played by an actress actually called just Mao), who is also interested in film directing, but lately, she has been somewhat apart from her father.

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A new channel called Zombie Channel wants to start operations with a live 30-minute one-cut zombie movie. And Higurashi will be in charge of directing it. From now on, we quickly watch the pre-production process (casting, rehearsals, etc.), gaining vital information.

The day of the live broadcast arrives, and like any other shooting, there are tons of problems to solve.

And now we understand. All the things that made us frown with the "one cut" of the first half hour, have a reason to be. Everything has been a great built-up for an ending full of great comedic moments. There's even some heart, as Mao end up helping his father overcome the shooting obstacles.

I've always said that those comedy movies that show the blooper reel in its final credits are comedies with very low quality that has to appeal to that mediocre gimmick so that the audience ends up with at least a smile when leaving the cinema.

Well, One Cut of the Dead is, by far, the only huge exception to my rule.

Movie Details

Title: One Cut of the Dead

Release Year: 2017

Director(s): Shin'ichirô Ueda

Actors: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama, a.o.

5 stars for One Cut of the Dead

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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