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.
From the minds of the director Shin’ichiro Ueda and the playwright Ryoichi Wada comes one the best horror comedies of the last decade. And I do not say that lightly. While I am not historically a massive fan of genre comedies, even I have to admit there has been some excellent films dealing with this particular mix of genres in a past few years. Films like The Cabin in the Woods (2012) and What We Do in Shadows (2014) certainly earned their places in my film collection. One Cut of the Dead is something else altogether. In fact, to simply call it a horror comedy does not really do the film justice. It’s film inside of a film inside of a film. A great triumph of metacinema and a thoroughly hilarious experience. Spoilers ahead, so tread lightly if you wish to watch this film with a fresh mind.
One Cut of the Dead was filmed in staggering eight days with only three million yens budget. The cast was assembled from unknown amateur actors and the director Ueda was previously mainly know for his work in short films. The film received next to no advertising and it only opened in one theatre for measly six showings! However, after receiving rave reviews in the festival circuit from critics and audiences alike, it eventually got a well-deserved wider release. Since then it has gone on to break box office records making $30.5 million worldwide, earning over thousand times it’s original budget. All of this is enough to set One Cut apart from a majority of modern cinema, but it is the delightful meta structure of the film that really makes it a cut above the rest (pun intended).
The film opens with a film crew shooting a low budget zombie film in an abandoned water filtering plant. While the actors and rest of the crew may think that their moody and explosive director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is the worst of their problems, they soon find out that what lurks outside the plant is much more dangerous. A hectic and on occasions baffling set of events ensue as the crew have to fight off real zombies, all the while their crazed director trying furiously to get everything on camera. Mayhem follows and people drop off one by one, until we are only left with the “final girl” and end credits roll. At this point my husband turned to me if as to say “Whatta hell was that?” and I swiftly told him to keep on watching, as this, of course, is a mere intro to the actual film.
Next, we jump back in time for a month. The Director Higurashi, a man best known for karaoke videos and his “fast, cheap, but average” work, is being wooed by a new TV channel purely dedicated to Zombies. He agrees to direct the launching show of the channel “One Cut of the Dead”, which like it name would suggest, is to be shot with only one continues cut. The film then follows the casting process and various difficulties with snobbish, unreliable and opiniated actors as well as the domestic life and its troubles in the Higurashi household.
Where the film really hits is stride is when the filming of this ground-breaking TV concept begins. We are now of course watching the TV crew film the original 37-minute zombie film we saw at the beginning, but from behind the scenes. The weird camera angles, bizarre reactions from the actors and scenes that all the sudden seem to take an odd direction, all become clear. While the original short film opens with a somewhat uncomfortable scene with the director yelling at one of the actors, watching it in context of Higurashi’s and his actors working dynamic, the dialogue suddenly takes on a life of its own. And this, of course, is true of all the things that baffles the brain in the beginning. From rogue actors, to food poisoning and broken-down equipment, the incredible circus surrounding this simple, low budget horror film is truly one the funniest thing I have watched in a long while. It’s meta film at it’s best.
Amateurs or not, the cast of One Cut is stellar from start to finish. Takayuki Hamatsu shines as the dedicated director Higurashi as does Harumi Shuhama as his wonderfully unhinged wannabe actor wife. What makes One Cut so thoroughly likable though, is the positive spirits that whole film seems to exude. All the characters, with their faults and all, are incredibly likable and the film is free of nasty minded individuals. Its take on the world of filmmaking with all its associated problems is light and without cynicism and at the heart of this rather comical journey is really a story of a family; of a father and a daughter. This took me quite by surprise and not because of the rest of the content, but because all the elements of this little side story are there all throughout but they are only slowly revealed to you as the rest of the chaos unfolds around them, culminating in marvellously heart warming ending.
Horror film it aint, so don’t pick up this title expecting a zombie comedy in style of Shaun of the Dead. But, if you’re going to watch one comedy this year, make it this one. It’s not only genuinely funny but truly innovative and a real old-fashioned feel-good film. I guarantee it will leave a smile on your face.