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Whether or not writer-director Shinichiro Ueda has had his fill of self-serious artists expounding on the metaphors in their latest zombie opus is anyone’s guess, but it certainly seems like it considering the relentless takedown the genre and its producers receive in his debut feature, One Cut of the Dead. A cast of newcomers and relative unknowns, a brilliantly disguised low budget and an epic, nearly 40-minute opening single take go into the cocktail that makes One Cut such a breezy and often laugh-out-loud hilarious zombie comedy. Though it sags in the second act as it sets up the third, it’s not so much that it loses all the steam it generated out of the gate. Ueda, who also serves as editor, packs the script with meta movie references that are as snarky as they are loving, which renders the pic the kind of collective pleasure that genre festivals are going want to seek out. Ironically, the television outlet crucial to the plot gives One Cut of the Dead a modest scale that would work well on streaming services and VOD, too.
That long take begins with a film crew shooting a zombie horror flick in an isolated, abandoned water filtration plant, allegedly once used for human experiments by the military. The director, Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), is browbeating his actors and demanding his effects crew drop blood from the roof, and generally being a boor before stomping off to pout. As the actors await his return, a real zombie apocalypse erupts, much to the delight of Higurashi, who insists the camera operator keep shooting (the Japanese title literally means “Don’t stop the camera”) as he runs around shrieking a deranged “Action!” every chance he gets. Higurashi’s film is gleefully bloody and typically cheesy, just the way we like our zombie movies.
Eventually that film reveals itself as the experimental end product of a live television broadcast, the brainchild of a bunch of executives launching an all-zombie channel (which, really, isn’t beyond the realm of possibility given what’s out there). It’s here, during the flashback to when Higurashi accepts the gig — the broadcaster appreciates his cheap, fast and average work ethic — and starts putting together a cast and crew that One Cut loses some of its energy and starts to feel like a domestic or workplace sitcom. But as the crew gets closer and closer to broadcast and we see how traffic jams, drunk stars, a sound man with a delicate bowel and an actress that was too method to work in the industry (among others) come to find roles in the show — also called One Cut of the Dead — the pieces finally click for Ueda’s dive into the final act.
One Cut wears its cheapness as a badge of honor, a tricky endeavor given its actual production polish; make-up effects by Kazuhide Simohata and Jyunko Hirabayashi go a long way to supplying the film-within-the-film its guerilla feel. But the pic’s best effect is its ability to ensure the same jokes land just as well in their second contexts. The little details pivoting on Higurashi’s on-the-fly directing, the ensuing mayhem, delighted execs that only see the final product, reality bleeding into the art and the clever callbacks that change our perception of what came before combine for a delightful comedy about the joys as well as the frustrations that go with genre filmmaking. Hamatsu is suitably hang-dog as the put-upon director no one takes seriously, and the rest of the cast knows precisely how to calibrate their performances against him, but Harumi Syuhama as Higurashi’s retired actress wife — whose incorporation of her self-defense classes into her role as a suddenly badass makeup artist — stands out. Somehow she turns the word “Pom!” into a laugh riot.
Production company: Enbu Seminar
Cast: Takayuki Hamatsu, Mao, Harumi Syuhama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Manabu Hosoi, Hiroshi Ichihara, Syuntaro Yamazaki, Shinichiro Osawa, Yoshiko Takehara, Miki Yoshida, Sakina Asamori, Ayana Goda, Yuzuki Akiyama
Director-screenwriter-editor: Shinichiro Ueda
Producer: Koji Ichihashi
Director of photography: Tsuyoshi Sone
Music: Nobuhiro Suzuki, Kailu Nagai
World sales: Third Window Films, Nikkatsu Corporation
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