It’s really tough to discuss Shin’ichirô Ueda’s excellent horror comedy “One Cut of the Dead” without completely deflating its sheer brilliance for someone that’s never seen it. The less you know about the premise going in to “One Cut of the Dead,” the more you’ll likely be very entertained by what unfolds. I knew almost nothing but the bare essentials and by the time the credits rolled, I was ready to put it in my top ten of 2019. Spoilers ahead.
Ueda takes us in to the setting of a low budget zombie movie where a director and his small crew are filming inside an abandoned WWII water filtration center. The place has a reputation for being the grounds of experimentation in raising the dead. While filming, director Higurashi is anxious to get the best, genuine emotion from his cast, and before they realize it, they’re actually battling real flesh eating zombies. What begins like a simple kind of schlocky, mediocre zombie movie slowly unfolds as so much more. What “One Cut of the Dead” becomes is an ode to the love of filmmaking, and how making movies is as much a community and bonding experience as anything else in life.
I was a bit taken aback with how short the film is, but director Ueda plays with a lot of ideas of fiction and meta-narratives by folding a narrative within a narrative within a narrative. What is a zombie movie becomes a hilarious tale about a production for the “Zombie Channel” where the network is planning a high concept zombie movie for their audience. What they don’t realize is that things spiral out of control thanks to drunk co-stars, diarrhea prone cast members, and a main star who begins to take her role way too seriously. Within that, there’s the touching tale of a father and daughter finding common ground through their love for filmmaking and horror movies. The performances are fantastic, especially by Takayumi Hamatsu who plays a father faced with his daughter growing up and forging her own path in life.
When he jumps on board to make “One Cut of the Dead,” he takes a bigger part in it than he realized, prompting a lot of repressed emotions. This amounts to a lot of fun and interesting moments where he dives head first in to his role. You wouldn’t think the idea of positioning a movie in the first act, and then showing us how it all came together would work, but the collective cast does such an enormous job with their respective roles. “One Cut of the Dead” thankfully never oversells the meta narrative, nor the whole production aspect with indulgent winks here and there. Through and through it’s human, it’s hilarious, and it’s a wonderful love letter to the struggle and journey of filmmaking and creating art.
Opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on September 14th! It will also screen in cinemas across the US at a special one-night event on September 17th. Details and screening times at http://onecut-movie.com/.