One Cut of the Dead (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Don’t stop shooting!

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Japanese film “One Cut of the Dead” combines two least favorite genres of mine and then suddenly throws the mix into a farcical situation which turns out to be a lot more entertaining than it seemed at first. Although I already knew about that before watching the movie, I often could not help but laugh and chuckle along with other audiences around me as enjoying many uproarious moments in the film, and I came out of the screening room with considerable jovialness and excitement. Nevertheless, I think you should watch the movie without any information for maximum entertainment, so I recommend you not to read the following paragraphs.

The movie opens with a filmmaking process being done in some abandoned building. They are making a zombie film, and they are shooting a crucial scene where the heroine confronts her boyfriend who has been turned into a zombie, but the lead actress has a problem with showing genuine emotions even after 42 takes. Quite frustrated and exasperated about this problem, the director lashes not only his lead actress but also his lead actor, and then he walks away from the scene while still seething with anger.

As the cast and crew have some rest during the director’s absence, one of them tells the lead performers a creepy tale about their shooting location. According to the tale, their shooting location was actually used by the Japanese military for some secret medical experiment during the World War II, and it seems the director chose to shoot his film in this location for, uh, more realism. At first, the lead performers do not believe the tale much, but, what do you know, zombies soon appear around them, and, not so surprisingly, it turns out that the director deliberately puts them into this perilous situation. As more people are turned into zombies, the lead performers are thrown into more fear and panic, and the director becomes more willing to shoot everything with his camera.

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There is also the other camera which is constantly around these characters (Please don’t ask me who is handling it), and what we eventually get is an amusing cross between zombie flicks and found footage movies. It is both funny and fascinating to watch how that camera in question persistently follows or moves along characters without any single cut for around 30 minutes, and we come to forgive a number of glaringly sloppy aspects such as an oddly protracted climactic moment on the rooftop of the building.

And then it is revealed that what we have seen so far is a short film titled, yes, “One Cut of the Dead”, and the movie goes back to one month ago for showing how everything began for the cast and crew of that short film. When he has just finished another mediocre directing job in his very inconsequential filmmaking career, Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is approached by the executives of a new cable movie channel which is mainly going to show zombie movies, and they have a special project which may interest him. They want him to make a one-take zombie movie, and they also want it to be presented via live broadcasting.

While he is understandably reluctant at first, Higurashi eventually comes to agree to make that movie, and the middle act of the film focuses on how he and others prepare for the production of their movie step by step. We see the cast members being together for script reading, and then we also watch how Higurashi and his cinematographer carefully plan how to shoot the movie in one single shot as demanded, and then we see Higurashi and his cast and crew gathering at that shooting location.

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Of course, the situation becomes more challenging than expected, and we get plenty of laughs as watching how Higurashi and his cast and crew rise to the occasion for completing their shooting process without any disastrous interruption. For instance, Higurashi and his ex-actress wife have to substitute for two of his performers due to an unexpected accident, and one of the most hilarious moments in the movie comes from when Higurashi becomes a little too emotional in front of the camera at one point. As a young woman who has aspired to be a filmmaker just like her father, Higurashi’s daughter gladly supervises the shooting process instead of her father, and you will probably cheer for her as observing her irrepressible passion and enthusiasm.

While keeping throwing more craziness and outrageousness into this loony filmmaking process, the movie firmly maintains its deadpan attitude, and so do Takayuki Hamatsu and the other cast members of the film. Although most of characters in the film are more or less than broad archetypes, they are imbued with life and personality thanks to the spirited comic performances from Hamatsu and other performers in the film, and the movie is surprisingly sweet and poignant at times.

“One Cut of the Dead” is directed and written by Shin’ichirô Ueda, and he did a competent job of mixing different genres well into an enjoyable piece of work. While it may be mild compared to the sheer lunacy of Sion Sono’s “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” (2013), the movie is still quite funny with its goofy and cheerful depiction of its characters’ problematic filmmaking process, and you will enjoy it a lot if you are familiar with the genres delightfully lampooned in the movie. In short, this is one of the funniest movies I saw during this year, and I am willing to watch it again for getting more good laughs.

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