When writer/director Shinichiro Ueda’s feature debut begins, you’ll likely be debating just how much time to give it before you give up and walk away. An almost found footage type zombie film within a zombie film, the low budget quality and sound combined with the overly familiar zombie trappings doesn’t seem like a must-see. The plot set up is simple; a film crew is working on their zombie film in the exact spot where the army experimented with re-animating the dead. Naturally, the hack director and his crew have to contend with real zombies amidst their lo-fi zombie feature production. Here’s the catch, though; this zombie feature is shot in one continuous take, and if you stick with it, you’ll find there’s way more than meets the eye to this surprising zombie comedy.
The grainy quality and the poor acoustics of the film’s location doesn’t win any favors straight away. Neither does the acting by the two leads, Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) and Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya). Ko is playing the newly turned zombie boyfriend to Chinatsu, but the director, Higurashi (Takayumi Hamatsu), is fed up with Chinatsu’s ability to emote. During a break between shots, Chinatsu and Ko chat with Harumi Syuhama’s makeup and hairstylist Nao, who delivers the exposition on the film site’s background before all hell breaks loose, unleashing zombie chases and bloody kills. It’s here that the audience gets its first glimpse of what’s in store. For just over 30 minutes, this zombie within a zombie feature plays out in one impressive, continuous take. On a technical level, it’s downright impressive. The choreography, plotting, and preparation required to pull this off is admirable. But then, as the zombie movie reaches its grim finale and the credits roll, the single-take gimmick zombie film closes out the first act and the narrative drops the low budget quality to rewind a month.
Here we learn that the Zombie Channel hired Higurashi to helm a 30-minute single-take movie, his initial balking at the near-impossible task, and the trials and tribulations of bringing it all together. It’s here that the layers slowly peel back to reveal just how clever Shinichiro Ueda’s script and direction really is. Everything is flipped on its head; every single character is revealed to be much more three dimensional than the opening act let on. The idiosyncrasies of the cast and crew brings heart and a whole hell of a lot of humor. Watching the behind the scenes play out, with Higurashi trying his best to work around the quirks of his cast and crew to bring together such a technically difficult film together elicits major laughs.
The downside is that the middle tends to drag a bit. Sandwiched between the mini-movie of the first act and the crowning achievement of the final act is a middle that slowed to a near crawl to reintroduce everyone and everything we thought we knew about the film. It’s all needed to really sell the emotion and humor of the story, but it upsets the pacing. Even still, it’s a payoff that justifies the flaws.
Shinichiro Ueda’s zombie comedy is one that purposefully pretends to offer familiar zombie schlock only to rip the rug out from under us in an innovative, hilarious way. The level of detail is uncanny, and the comedy is equally matched by charm. One Cut of the Dead doesn’t offer enough horror to satisfy genre fans looking for something straightforward and traditional, but for those looking for laughs and commentary on the passions of low budget horror filmmaking this is a must watch.