For many genre fans, it has started to feel like the zombie film has finally run its course. The Walking Dead has practically dug its own grave, and we’re so out of ideas we’re awaiting a Train to Busan remake and Zombieland 2.
Enter: One Cut of the Dead. This Japanese horror-comedy has so much love for the genre it’s contagious, and while it may be a perfect remedy to our zombie blues, ultimately its real takeaway is to remind us why we love movie magic.
An inspirational ode to low budget genre filmmakers everywhere, Shin’ichirô Ueda’s film opens with a zombie attacking a girl named Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama). With a shaky hand-held camera, old school green makeup effects á la Dawn of the Dead, and a general haphazardness to its production value, the weak of patience might give up after this opening scene. What those losers will miss out on is that Chinatsu is actually an actress on a film set, in an abandoned warehouse shooting a scrappy zombie flick. Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is on hand to give Chinatsu a pep talk before the next scene, and an unknown camera operator is continually rolling between takes for a real behind the scenes documentary feel.
It is while lead actors Chinatsu and Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) are talking to make-up artist Nao (Harumi Shuhama) that they learn that their location was once used by soldiers in WWII for human experiments. Obviously, it is not long before real zombies attack the cast and crew.
The film plays out with a good sense of humour and splatter; director Higurashi sees the attack as an opportunity to get some great footage while Nao gets a chance to try out her recently learned self-defence techniques. Even small moments like the camera operator wiping a blood splatter from his lens add to a joking sense of self-awareness and understanding of the conventions (and pitfalls) of the genre it roams within.
Ueda possesses nothing other than the highest levels of creativity in not only the way he plays with narrative structure but in the very nature of the way the film is made. The level of technical proficiency cannot be denied either, its extremely low budget of $25,000 exudes levels of resourcefulness would shame that of any major production. A surprising twist after the first act – which is best left as a surprise, no spoilers here – is a chaotic and charming breath of fresh air that savours its own form and storytelling methods and refuses to quit until the credits finish.
One Cut of the Dead doesn’t even have to attempt anything new with traditional zombie lore, but the ingenious way its story is told is a revitalisation worthy of praise. Ueda makes you fall in love with movie making all over again, and demands you respect the craft right until the last second. By the film’s end there is such genuine glee upon the face of every cast member that you’ll probably believe you can go out and make a movie yourself.
One Cut of the Dead is coming soon to Shudder and will be playing at special one-off screenings around the US on September 17th, you can find tickets here.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here