With One Cut Of The Dead earning accolades a various international film-festivals and attracting major crowds in Japan, we were very eager to see this surprise hit in the cinema. Even though it took us a while, the time was finally right and we are finally able to present our review of Shinichiro Ueda’s debut full-length feature.
One day, Takayuki Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), a small-time director, is asked to make a movie to celebrate the start of a new Zombie Channel. The requirements are: it has to be shot in one go, should not be longer than 30 minutes, and should concern the outbreak of a zombie plague while a movie-crew are filming a zombie movie. While other directors have passed up the opportunity, Higurashi hasn’t the guts to say no.
One Cut of The Dead‘s narrative – by taking a meta-perspective on film-making as such – concerns when all is said and done nothing other than the love for cinema (Narra-note 1). More specifically, the main narrative concerns, in retrospect, the great lengths a team goes through to finish, against all odds, the one shot they have. It is in the unfolding of the process of the realization of their zombie movie, an unfolding that explains the many strange and awkward elements in the finished product we saw earlier, that the crux of the comedy has to be situated. While the one long take, which is around 37 minutes long, might make you question certain elements and the direction the narrative is taking, the subsequent unfolding explains – in an amazingly funny way – your questioning as such. In other words, one has to go through the questioning of the various awkward elements in the one take for the explanatory and referential comedy to become truly effective.
If we solely focus on the one long take, on the zombie narrative that concerns the making of a zombie movie, One Cut of The Dead focuses on the dimension of ‘acting’ heartfelt emotion – funny if you consider that this cinematographical product was born out of an acting-masterclass. The conflict between the committed director Takayuki Higurashi, who appears to be the true director of the zombie narrative as well, and the main actress Aika Matsumoto (Yuzuki Akiyama) concerns nothing other than her expression of fear as such – the fact that she, in the eyes of the director, only acts it (Narra-note 2). Moreover, this conflict, which acts as a sort of main thread, gives rise to a rather funny pun-like re-occurrence of the director.
The cinematography of One Cut Of The Dead has two different sides as the meta-structure of the narrative fundamentally alters the nature of the cinematography. While the short movie that opens the narrative is shot in one long shaky shot, with almost no true fixed moments whatsoever, the meta-narrative that gives us insight in how the zombie-narrative was made is a concatenation of more fixed shots with occasionally more obvious following shots thrown into the mix (Cine-Note 1).
Due to the meta-perspective on movie-making – and this is one of most remarkable accomplishments of One Cut Of the Dead – the low-budget nature of the narrative is not sensible as such. While this might sound strange, what we actually mean by this is that the low-budget nature is explicitly exploited for comedic purposes in the actual narrative. The bad practical effects and so on, are, in fact, smartly recuperated by the meta-narrative as such.
The way music is used in One Cut Of the Dead is marvelous. In the one-take narrative, the music bombastically enforces the so-called thriller sequences, while in the meta-narrative, the various musical pieces gives the framing of the making-off rhythm – a rhythm evoking the joy one can find in the process of making a movie. Even though each performance is effective in enforcing the comedic dimension, there are nevertheless three performances that steal the show: Yuzuki Akiyama carries the one-cut narrative with her emotions. Takayuki Hamatsu beautifully evokes the obsessional focus a director can have. And last but not least Yoshiko Takehara, which enlightens the narrative with her expressive facial expressions.
One Cut of The Dead is one of the most pleasant surprises of this year. Furthermore, it is one of or even the funniest movie released this year. While the one-take ‘horror’ narrative might raise some eyebrows at first, the clever and inventive meta-narrative that follows successfully turns One Cut Of The Dead into a very hilarious tongue-in-the-cheek referential comedy that, when all is said and done, concerns nothing other than the joy, even if it is against all odds, of releasing a movie.
Narra-note 1: The ultimate “pun” comes when credits are rolling, as the imagery accompanying the credits (obviously) reveal that even aspects of meta-narrative were “fictional”.
Narra-note 2: Also note that Takayuki Higurashi expresses his own feelings – the so-called improvisation – when commenting on ‘yoroshiku desu’ Aika Matsumoto’s acting and when he addresses Kazuaki Kamiya (Kazuaki Nagaya).
Cine-Note 1: There are also some moving shots shot by drone present in the cinematographical mix. One drone-shot, for example, shows the place where the zombie narrative was shot.