Writer: Shinichiro Ueda
Cast: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Harumi Shuhama
Running time: 96mins
What’s the story: When an undead outbreak interrupts filming on a low-budget zombie movie, the director insists on working it all in. But, that’s just the beginning of the story…
What’s the verdict: Large budgeted zombie fests on screens big and small are content to feast on ideas George A. Romero coined 50 years ago. True zombie smarts are now found in the indie sector. A place where pocket money budgets are surpassed by ingenuity and ambition.
Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead may be this trend’s ne plus ultra movie. Boasting a deceptively tricksy narrative, bravura filmmaking and genuine warmth, it is 96-minutes of cinematic joy and a Top 10 Films of the Year contender.
The opening 30-odd minutes are audaciously told in a single take. Director Higurashi (the kindly, worn faced Hamatsu) is making a super low budget horror flick. When lead actress Chinatsu (Akiyama) flubs her 42nd take Higurashi flips, leaving leading man Ko (Nagaya) and make-up artist Nao (Shuhama) to soothe Chinatsu’s fragile ego.
But, an actual zombie apocalypse erupts, and as cast and crew fall to the flesh-eaters, Chinatsu, Ko and Nao fight for survival. While Higurashi enthusiastically films the whole thing in the name of authentic cinema.
Low budget and scrappy, the opening third’s breathless pace and energy, plus that one-take hook, sweep along the audience.
Then Ueda, in his role as writer, director and editor, pulls off an inventive plot leap to one month before that opening single-shot movie, depicting how the whole film-within-a-film came together.
Deftly managing the shift into gentle comedy, along with wry swipes at the movie industry and heartfelt family drama, Ueda’s movie fizzes with imagination.
Money-hungry producers, vain film stars, dangerously committed method actors, on-the-day disasters and invention in the face of adversity are all delivered with the relish of filmmakers who know how good their movie is.
Frequently hilarious, even more impressive than that one-take mini-movie are the obstacles Ueda contrives to derail the fictional cast and crew reaching their finish line.
Remarkably, One Cut of the Dead marks the director’s feature film debut and is a product of a Tokyo film school, the Enbu Seminar’s Cinema Project scheme. Actors are Enbu students and the movie was delivered on a £17,500 price tag. Money that might buy you a single severed leg on The Walking Dead.
Oscars all round.