Fabulous Japanese comedy horror about an indie film crew who are in the middle of making a cheap zombie flick when actual zombies appear on their set. And I’m laughing just remembering it.
When Steven Sheil and Chris Cooke introduced One Cut of the Dead as Saturday dawned at Mayhem Film Festival, they told the gathered film fans that they were not going to tell us much about it, except we were to trust them and we should stick with it, as it was going to surprise us. They weren’t very convincing, but none of us was going to go anywhere: everyone stuck with it.
I’m going to see if I can convince you, without telling you what you will see (I’m afraid you’ll find plenty of that amongst other reviews if you really want), starting with…
- Writer and director Shin’inchiro Ueda is a fucking genius; and
- One Cut of the Dead is now my favourite zombie comedy (sorry, Fist of Jesus).
The low-budget One Cut of the Dead is about a small indie film crew making a zombie flick… and yes, I know the world is full of low-budget films; and you might think you’ve seen enough Asian zombie films; and yes, there are also plenty of films about filmmakers already. But forget The Blair Witch Project (too slow), forget Train to Busan (too big) and forget Rubber (too sarcastic) – and I admire all three of those films – One Cut of the Dead is 100% unique.
I’ve said it’s a comedy too, and on this front again One Cut of the Dead is unique. It’s not pretentious, not over-the-top sweary, not exploitative, nor a spoof. Instead, Ueda presents us with a simple, short zombie film – almost like just any other, without being a copy of any one film in particular – and then shows us just what a fabulous experience it is to make such a film. And I haven’t laughed that much at the cinema in years.
One Cut of the Dead is still doing the festival circuits in this country and abroad; I’ve read it was a surprise success in Japan too. Apparently, it was made for less than $27,000 and made over 250 times that back in Japan alone. It is an utterly remarkable film, full of the passion of commitment, the joy of doing what you love, and some not-too-sentimental moments of father-daughter bonding. Oh, and blood; plenty of blood… people attacking zombies, zombies attacking people. And every single character playing to their strengths.
I want to credit the cast, of course (such as Harumi Syuhama and Takayuki Hamatsu), but I don’t want to tell you what parts they play… except that most of them play at least two parts each. Both roles – in every case – work well; in fact, they work better and better as the film goes on. Everyone seems to put themselves into their parts, and they all present the emotions and moods that are needed; extreme or subtle as the scene demands. The versatility of the whole cast is remarkable.
Yes, there is a slow first act (which Sheil and Cooke asked us to stick with), but I promise it becomes apparent very soon that it was necessary. There are surprises in One Cut of the Dead; I’m not telling you to watch out for a big twist or anything, but the biggest surprise of all is just how well the structure of the film works, and the skilful writing to fit everything (both plot and humour) into that structure. You know when you watch a time travel story, and you carefully look for when the writer might have tripped up with continuity or paradoxes, and you love it when they don’t… that’s the kind of clever writing I’m talking about, though it’s not about people going back in time, but characters becoming different characters, and scenes turning out the way they do for hilarious reasons.
I am so glad I caught One Cut of the Dead on the big screen, and without knowing much about it: you should too if you get the chance; especially if you have any affection for the art of honest filmmaking, teamwork or self-defence. This is one I will buy when it is available on home release, and probably the t-shirt too (though it’s currently only available in Japan). Honestly, do yourself a favour and watch One Cut of the Dead first chance you get; and to go in blind, avoid too many other reviews.