If actors in movies are merely fakes,
How do you manage to up the stakes?
How do you take the viewers’ slump
And get their blood to truly pump?
How do you take a film’s façade
And prove it’s more than just a fraud?
Reality! I’ve said it here;
It’s not enough to fake a tear,
To cry on cue, to feign a scream,
To cheapen what should be extreme.
I want a shark that really bites,
Real zombie hordes with appetites,
A true disaster caught on tape
From which the cast may not escape.
Alas, such things we can’t get at,
With contracts, laws, and things like that,
But if real danger should appear
Why not record the drama, fear,
Reality?! No thought for taste,
Let no disaster go to waste.
MPA Rating: Not Rated (probably R for bloody violence and F words in the subtitles, though there’s clear fakery to the gore)
At long last, I have reached the end of my 2020 Blindspot list, and once more I tap the trite but apt phrase “better late than never.” I didn’t intend to wrap up the list with this Japanese zombie film; it just happened to fall to last place, which only makes it even more surprising that it turned out to be my favorite of all the Blindspots from last year. In case there is doubt, I am typically averse to extreme violence in movies, so zombie flicks are far from my cup of tea. Yet I did love Train to Busan, and the 100% Rotten Tomatoes score for One Cut of the Dead gave me hope that this one might be something special. It is.
For starters, One Cut of the Dead is gleefully meta, being a film about the making of a film about people making a zombie film when real zombies appear. It is also the kind of film that is hard to talk about without giving too much away, but I’ll try to avoid spoilers. Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is trying to wring emotion out of his actors as they shoot an ultra-low-budget zombie flick in an abandoned factory. While the cast and crew grow weary of his demands, actual zombies suddenly appear, and he seizes the life-and-death situation to bring realism to his film, insisting on keeping the camera rolling as the undead move in.
That synopsis alone probably doesn’t seem particularly innovative, but let’s just say there’s more to it. The film’s most impressive achievement is that the first 37 minutes are all one long tracking shot with no cuts (a favorite technique of mine), following the characters from zombie chases to Higurashi’s sabotaging of their escape attempts. As impressive as this is, the film’s low-budget status is evident from the awkward pauses, stilted dialogue, and schlocky violence that largely stays off-screen, building into increasingly funny absurdity. Yet the rest of the movie adds so much more to the initial film within a film, providing context of what happened beforehand and what happened off-camera, making the proceedings even more hilarious, quirky, and (as strange as it may sound) heartwarming.
Modern comedies rarely hold a candle to the older classics, in my opinion, but I’ll admit that One Cut of the Dead had me grinning much more than I expected going in. What seems at first like a groan-worthy wannabe horror turns into a celebration of film and the enormous effort put into it, and I loved how even seemingly insignificant details were given amusing explanations as the story unfolded. Even the director’s name had me wondering if it was an oblique reference to the classic Higurashi horror series.
As much as I enjoyed the film, I wasn’t quite sure if it warranted placement on my list; then I found that there was actually a follow-up sequel of sorts from last year called One Cut of the Dead: Remote Mission, in which the same cast made a short film from their homes during COVID lockdown. Just revisiting the characters and their quirks made me smile all over again and confirmed to me that One Cut of the Dead should be List-Worthy. As a comedy masquerading as horror, its inventive plot, endearing characters, and brilliant execution make it an instant classic in my book.
Best line: (Higurashi’s wife) “Pom!” (You’ll get it when you see it.)
© 2021 S.G. Liput
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