A rough location shoot has the cast and crew of a low budget zombie film already on when the living dead show up for real. As they fight for their lives they not only have to contend with the walking dead but a director who sees his big break, and is will to sacrifice them for it. Thus begins ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, or does it?
Shinichiro Ueda wrote/directed and edited ONE CUT OF THE DEAD and he’s brilliantly flipped the film within a film idea around in multiple ways. After the initial nearly forty-minute take of zombie mayhem, the film goes back to show this all came to be. And then it flips again to a manic behind the scenes look at the filming of the opening segment.
The opening sequence actually works as a low budget horror film, complete with “unintentionally” funny moments. It’s a fast-paced, and all shot in one long take. It might have passed for found footage if there weren’t so many shots of the director (Takayuki Hamatsu) holding the camera.
The sudden switch to a backstage comedy couldn’t work unless the intro wasn’t so convincing. If the audience won’t buy what they saw, they won’t care about how it was done. We watch and laugh and what should be a cinematic suicide mission comes together. The task, to create a segment shot live and in one take to introduce a 24-hour zombie-themed cable channel.
Led by a director who got the gig because nobody else would take it, a cast and crew of misfits put together a plan to make it happen. This is the slowest part of the film. It’s still funny in places but the usual collection of divas, incompetents, and bottom line-obsessed studio execs is overly familiar. Once filming starts things pick up again quickly though.
Things go wrong, from talent not showing up to equipment malfunctions and a drunk director of photography. Watching them improvise their way around these is great. It also puts the opening sequence in a new light as we see what it took to produce it.
ONE CUT OF THE DEAD reportedly received a five-minute ovation at the Udine Far East Film Festival and it deserved it. It’s a film that’s exciting, funny and even a bit inspiring. It’s on the festival circuit now, hopefully, it will see wider distribution soon. And equally, hopefully, we’ll see more from Shin’ichirô Ueda in the near future too.