One Cut of the Dead  カメラを止めるな! Dir: Shinichiro Ueda (2017)

One Cut of the Dead    One Cut of the Dead Film Poster

カメラを止めるな! Kamera wo tomeru na!

Running Time: 96 mins.

Release Date: November 04th, 2017

Director:  Shinichiro Ueda

Writer: Shinichiro Ueda (Screenplay),

Starring: Takayuki Hamatsu, MAO, Harumi Syuhama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Manabu Hosoi, Tomokazu Yamaguchi,

IMDB        Website

One Cut of the Dead was created by the ENBU Seminar guys, an outfit who do indie films on a shoestring budget with somewhat experienced crews working with newbie actors. Originally released in November 2017, it disappeared before being picked up by film distribution house Third Window Films and soon it was touring international festivals racking up awards and buzz throughout 2018. It won runner-up in the audience vote in the Udine Far East Festival while taking audience awards at a variety of fests like Yubari in Japan, Camera Japan in Holland, Reel Asian in Canada, and more. In 2019 it is unleashed across the UK as Third Window Films gives it a theatrical and then home release.

With so many awards and nothing but praise from fans and critics, film-makers and publicists, the hype is big for this film so I went into it with some trepidation, that I might be out of step with nearly the rest of the world and not feel anything. Thankfully I was charmed and enjoyed it a lot. Before I go further, part of my enjoyment was not knowing what happens in the story and so I make this request to those who have not watched it: avoid trailers and reviews and just watch the film however you can.

The story starts in media res with a small crew shooting a low-budget zombie movie that looks like any other number of enjoyably rotten J-horror forays into the genre such as Zombie Self-Defence Force (2006) where the zombies are people painted a shade of bluey-green and the set-dressing, special effects and locations are noticeably cheap.

Adhering to the cheap and cheerful ethos is this film production being shot in an abandoned water-filtration plant in the mountains. Amongst the cast are a “serious actor” named Kazuaki Kamiya (Kazuaki Nagaya) who is meant to be causing his co-star, a waif-like idol named Aika Matsumoto (Yuzuki Akiyama), to be terrified as he shambles towards her and attempts to chow down on her neck. She lacks the experience to show emotions so the scene falls flat which drives the director mad. We find out that this is the 42nd take and the director, Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), has had enough. He flies off the handle and into Aika’s personal space in a rage and berates her with a great line, “Give me real fear! The true shiver in your face!” Seeing the man lose his grip, the film’s make-up artist, Nao (Harumi Syuhama), steps in to save the cast from Higurashi’s tirade and the director storms off to the roof to do something with fake blood.

During a tense break, the remaining cast and crew try and clear the atmosphere and warm to each other by trading stories. Nao tells everyone of the director’s desperation to get the project finished and the urban legends surrounding their shooting location, a place where the Japanese army practised dark experiments in resurrecting the dead. Rumours come to life when genuine honest to goodness zombies start showing up and chowing down on the crew. Nao becomes a warrior woman leading the two young actors on an epic escape from the recently turned assistant director and other shamblers which is when Higurashi reappears with his own camera and a maniacal grin. Does the director stop shooting? Hell no! This is the zombie movie he dreamed of!

(Final spoiler warning)

This is part of One Cut of the Dead’s much talked about opener where audiences get to enjoy an ambitious full-throttle one camera one-take chase sequence which, from beginning to end, lasts 37 breathless minutes and involves a sole camera-person and actors racing around the water filtration plant. This is a dance with complex choreography as people pop in and out of little scenes to create a lot action at the right moments. Everyone hits their marks perfectly to make it happen. It is a bravura performance from all involved to create a prime example of b-movie material as people howl while holding prosthetic limbs and fake blood coats the set. It also sets up a switch in direction for the wider narrative as we soon realise we are seeing the end result of a film production and One Cut of the Dead adopts the film within a film approach to give viewers a gentle self-reflexive and satirical look at the world of film-making.

It turns out that the opening 37 minutes are all part of a live television broadcast and we get a full understanding of how such a project comes into being by rewinding a month earlier to the inception when care-free television execs hired the most pliable director and bankable actors they could find and we see everyone assembled for this ambitious production. It provides another dimension on what we have already watched. Characterisation and comedy carry the film as we get a new perspective on people we have already met by sitting in on the script read-throughs and then seeing how they work together on location. Idols turned wannabe actors are hired alongside “artistes”, a beer-soaked veteran, and one poor actor who suffers from diarrhoea if given the wrong things to drink. The cast are being carried by a harried and harassed crew comprised of newbies who love horror and experienced and cynical veterans and we see they do even more racing around the set than the actors to make everything work.

Through giving us the behind the scenes action of the opening 37 minutes the audience gets an insight into how cheap zombie flicks are made with bad make-up, B-movie camerawork, silly plot holes and characterisation that afflict nearly every example of the genre showing up here. We also see how everyone played a part, their different character traits and talents feeding into the sometimes chaotic but always fun process. It allows Ueda and his cast to play up the humour of the lo-fi realities of making films on a budget complete with the thrills of potential disasters as cast go AWOL, emergency toilet breaks happen during filming, cheap prosthetic get thrown around and equipment is damaged. It is all good-natured and there is immense satisfaction in seeing the saves each person brings to a production which is perpetually teetering on the brink of disaster and we understand just how much passion and effort was involved. That would be enough for a film but the script has one more genre twist to give us with some family drama interwoven in the action.

Higurashi, the insane auteur at the beginning, is more than just an actor, he is the director at the helm of the project. He is cheerful and unassuming and a bit of a hack who describes himself as “fast, cheap, but average” but beneath his gentle smile and patient eyes is a passionate man with enough acting experience to channel the emotions he has built up through some method acting as he takes on the role of mad cinephile. Tough as nails make-up artist Nao is Higurashi’s wife. She herself is a method actor who had to quit acting because she goes a little too deep into character which is played for laughs in the film as she takes the role too seriously. Higurashi and Nao have a daughter named Mao who wants to get into film-making and has characteristics of both of her parents through her passion for film she keeps the production rolling.

This is like the family friendly version of an earlier Third Window Film release called Lowlife Love. We see the film industry picked apart on the indie end of the spectrum, just without the bitterness and negativity that some experience. This is an ode to the joys of film-making. The infectious enthusiasm of everyone involved, from assistants to television execs, in the making of this B-movie radiates from the screen as people overcome the chaos unfolding around them to deliver something entertaining for audiences. Everyone cares and everyone takes part. This enthusiasm lifts even a throwaway film to the level of worthwhile entertainment. This is why I was charmed by it. I hope you get the chance to be charmed, too.

After a career making Japan-bound indies writer and director Shinichiro Ueda brilliantly announces his international arrival as a feature film-maker through this loving crafted and complex story dedicated to creativity. A loving tribute to film made through many complex processes, One Cut of the Dead gives us the joys and terrors of life making films through a quality slice of zombie action.

Also, stick around during the end credits to see the real deal.

4 thoughts on “One Cut of the Dead  カメラを止めるな! Dir: Shinichiro Ueda (2017)

  1. Nice one!

    I think what ultimately won me over was the effort that went into this film, from the uncut opening segment to the realism of the “making of” segment, right down to the attention to detail and nuance of things like people falling over, etc. The timing and choreography, not to mention the commitment of the cast gave me a warm feeling.

    It’s rare that a film about zombies of all things can engender palpable emotions about the love of filmmaking and films in general like this one does.

    1. Yeah, seeing how the first part came together in a well-realised and dramatic story itself made me really enjoy the film more and appreciate the film makers. Sometimes people consume film and other media without any thought and this makes people stop and consider how these films get made. You won’t mercilessly trash zombie films after this.

  2. So glad you liked it! What a great movie, really. The best thing is to watch it without knowing anything about the “real” scenario.

    So much fun… and so well done, edited and directed. I’m a fan.

    1. Yeah, that twist where we see everything from a new perspective really made the film come together. It’s affectionate and audacious and awesome in many respects. The film lives up to the hype. Also, “POM” has become something I say at random in real life!

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