One Cut of the Dead opens with a character played by Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) leveling an axe at Ko’s character Ken (Kazuaki Nagaya). He’s a zombie, and she begs him, “Ken! Stop!” He hesitates. She professes her love. Then he bites into her neck. The director (Takayuki Hamatsu) calls cut, and the camera zooms out, revealing that all of this has taken place on the set of a movie.
The camera, without cutting, captures the director throwing a tantrum, “42nd take!?,” before storming off set. The young actors hang out with the makeup artist, who tells them that the “the Japanese army used [the set] for experimentation… like bringing the dead back to life.” Off screen, the director brings all of the blood from the film within the film to the roof and casts a spell to bring the zombies back. Zombies attack the set of a zombie film. Chaos ensues.
One of the pleasures of One Cut of the Dead is the confusion on the characters part about which zombies are real, and which ones are extras. The living don’t know how to react, but it’s clear to the audience, making for excellent dramatic irony, which is played expertly for both humor and horror at different points.
Director and cowriter Shin’ichirô Ueda also has some laugh out loud funny moments. In one scene, the living play keep away with a zombie’s arm. It’s hilarious, and at the same time, tinged with the tension of knowing that if the zombie catches them, they’ll die.
And of course, there’s the director character. He’s trying to make the best film possible, summoning actual zombies to rip a better performance out of his lead actress. The commentary is incisive, condemning the way directors are sometimes abusive, especially toward their female performers. Think about the notorious behind-the-scenes stories of the way Stanley Kubrick tortured Shelley Duvall on the set of The Shining. It’s also genuinely funny, with him tossing zombies at the survivors and yelling, “Action!”
Technically, the film is incredible. It really is one take, no cuts, as the title suggests. There are still decapitations, zombies ripping off limbs, and gruesome injuries. How they pull it all off, and how many times they must’ve attempted that one take, are something you’ll marvel over for days after watching.
Then there’s the twist. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say it’s one of my favorite film surprises of all time. It takes an amazing, totally unexpected turn thirty-seven minutes in and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. See this movie.
One Cut of the Dead opens in New York and LA on September 14th. It will screen in theaters nationwide on September 17th. You can see those locations here.
Wicked Rating – 9/10
Director(s): Shin’ichirô Ueda
Writer(s): Shin’ichirô Ueda, Ryoichi Wada (play)
Stars: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama
Release date: September 14 (New York and LA), September 17 (Nationwide)
Studio/Production Company: ENBU Seminar, Panpokopina
Run Time: 96 minutes