Oftentimes when a theater patron gets up during a movie and never returns it’s on account of disliking the product. That is one of the inherent risks we take as theatergoers; investing our time and money on art only to be disappointed. The emcee forewarned us that when he received One Cut of the Dead around Christmas and cued it up, he didn’t think he could finish. The first thirty minutes are unbearable. Not quite the ringing endorsement expected at a festival whose films are lamented to be fantastic.
The lights dim, the audience waits. The movie starts as a girl shrieks. She’s begging for her life as a youthful male lurches forward with a slow gait, outstretched arms. He is a zombie, and she is set to be the next victim.
And then the director yells “CUT!” Reel change. We aren’t watching a zombie movie. Were watching the making of a zombie movie.
Even with 42 takes the director still harangues the actress, trying to get her to deliver a reaction that is best suited for a zombie victim. Higurashi (Takayuki Hamastsu) is a filmmaker seemingly inspired by Stanley Kubrick doing take after take to get the perfect reaction. But actress Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) is so exhausted that her cries for help may be real and not saline eye drops. Her co-star Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) is a pretty boy star on the rise that raises questions about his character and whether or not a zombie should be able to wield a weapon. I’m sure Marlon Brando would have had similar thoughts had A Streetcar Named Desire been re-envisioned as a zombie melodrama.
The production takes a break. Higurashi storms off the set. Makeup artist Nao (Harumi Syuhama) steps in and comforts Chinatsu. And then all hell breaks loose. The pretend zombie movie becomes a full scale zombie outbreak. Higurashi is ecstatic yelling, “This is true filmmaking!” He wants the crew to keep shooting. The camera operator obeys and we witness twenty minutes of uninterrupted action. The crew tries its best to survive and not be eaten. The highlight is Nao dropping a brush and wielding an axe in surprising fashion.
That’s the first cut (or act, rather) of Shinichiro Ueda’s debut feature. The other two acts of this Japanese horror-comedy have their incisions probe deeper into combating a zombie apocalypse. Okay, not really. What Ueda accomplishes is a rarefied trifecta. The first is a crash course in budget film-making where he pays homage to the horror subgenre that George Romero created fifty years ago with Night of the Living Dead. Bare in mind the opening scene (one continuous take lasting thirty-seven minutes) will test your patience. I started to fidget in my seat. I could feel others start to wonder if they made the wrong selection and would have been better off somewhere else. Rest assured, sorrow turned to smiles and laughter.
Parts two and three of the trifecta I will shroud in mystery. But the combination of all three in a traditional three-act structure provides us with a small zombie outbreak, some comedy, and the magic of what we witness when experiencing a movie. Ueda’s blueprint for story and editing creates a delightful, blood-soaked comedy. One Cut of the Dead offers a fresh spin on the zombie movie not quite experienced since Edgar Wright gave us Shaun of the Dead.
At a film festival where fantastic is in the title – and is also the quick, go-to declarative statement when telling festival-goers how much they enjoyed a movie – One Cut of the Dead is more than fantastic. It’s fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had watching a movie at this festival. I went from fidgeting to totally flipping for it. Hopefully others share my enthusiasm.
Tags: Edgar Wright, Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2018, Night of the Living Dead, One Cut of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Shinichiro Ueda, Zombie