“Don’t stop shooting!” director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) shouts as he points at the camera, completely unconcerned by the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse on the other side of the door. All he wants is to make the perfect movie, something that will stand the test of time, and nothing -not even the potential demise of his entire film crew- will stop him from making it happen. His cast are equally as determined to survive the onslaught of the undead, though, and they won’t let his resolve be the end of them — thus begins Shinichiro Ueda’s feature-length film debut One Cut of the Dead.
With the first act filmed entirely in one take, Ueda’s zombie comedy is an ambitious first outing for the director on the big screen, but boy does it pay off big time. Following its fictitious cast and crew as they run around an abandoned water filtration plant, which was allegedly once used for human experimentation, the film is full of amusing scenarios and unexpected surprises. The film’s motley crew of characters and indie feel only adds to its charm as everything that could possibly go wrong, does, until there’s just one person left standing. But that’s not all, as the film offers an entirely new story following the 40-minute mark.
One Cut of the Dead presents three distinct storylines for the audience: the eponymous one-take film, how it came to be, and everything that happened -and went wrong- to help create the end product. The first serves as a fun and thrilling introduction to the story, while the second reveals the film-within-the-film narrative, but it’s the final arc that truly stands out. Providing a whole new understanding of the story’s first half, the third plotline cleverly discloses the mistakes that happened behind the scenes to make the film what it was. Drunken crew members, sudden character changes, and an actress that gets far too lost in her roles – all of this, and more, contributes to whirlwind production.
Even though everything seems to be going wrong for all those involved, it’s this part of the narrative that makes One Cut of the Dead work so perfectly. The chaos that ensues on screen adds to the film’s overall charm, while its clever call-backs to the first half completely changes our perception of it. Jokes that had already made us laugh the first time are given a whole new meaning here, and land just as well -if not better- the second-time round. It’s a risky way to tell a story, but it pays off so well that there’s really no way we can fault it.
The cast also add to the film’s overall brilliance, as each plays a very distinct role in the mayhem that takes place onscreen. Every character is important to the story, no matter how small their role may seem at first, and it’s clear that Ueda’s script was made with the intention of emphasising the strengths of each actor. Written as part of a workshop system that’s unique to Japan, the story itself was made after the cast were chosen so that their characters would match their individual skills and personality, and it shows.
Everyone thrives in their separate roles as they bring their own unique flair to the story, but it is Harumi Shuhama that truly stands out. Taking on the role of the film’s over-zealous lead actress, and wife to the director, Shuhama shines thanks to her naturally funny performance, while her character’s no-nonsense attitude and badass fighting skills makes her even more striking. If you want to be stuck with anyone in a zombie apocalypse, it’s her – unless you get bitten, of course, then she’s likely to turn on you faster than you can say her catchphrase: “Pom”.
Directors: Shinichiro Ueda
Release: 24 April 2018 (Udine Far East Film Festival), UK release TBC
From: Third Window Films
Format: Theatrical release
Age Rating: 15
Read more of our Udine Far East Film Festival coverage:
• 20th Udine Far East Film Festival: Hwang Jung-min and Ryoo Seung-wan Interview
• The Battleship Island: Director’s Cut REVIEW
• 20th Udine Far East Film Festival: Inuyashiki REVIEW
• 20th Udine Far East Film Festival: Forgotten REVIEW