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-[Film Reviews]-, East Asian Cinema, Japanese Cinema

‘One Cut of the Dead’ (2017): The Cure for Both Found-Footage and Zombie Films

Directed by: Shin’ichirō Ueda || Produced by: Koji Ichihashi

Screenplay by: Shin’ichirō Ueda || Starring Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama,  Kazuaki Nagaya,  Harumi Syuhama, Hasoi Manabu, Hiroshi Ichihara, Shuntaro Yamazaki, Shinichiro Osawa

Music by: Nobuhiro Suzuki, Kailu Nagai || Cinematography: Tsuyoshi Sone || Edited by: Shin’ichirō Ueda || Country: Japan || Language: Japanese

Running Time: 97 minutes

By the time I graduated from college in 2015, filmmaking popular culture was saturated with two trends over which I had conflicting opinions. The found-footage format, in which a film’s narrative is portrayed as documentary footage in universe and one or more characters assume the diegetic role of director of photography, had long since metamorphized from its independent, chump-budget origins (e.g. The Blair Witch Project [1999]) into a mainstream international gimmick to save both production time and money (e.g. Paranormal Activity [2007-2021], REC [2007, 2009], Quarantine [2008], The Visit [2015]), regardless of whether that faux-documentarian aesthetic was appropriate for a given story or not. At the same time, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002, 2007), Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (both 2004) led to a resurgence of ravenous undead antagonists on film from I Am Legend (2007) to Zombieland (2009) to The Walking Dead (2010-2022) to World War Z (2013) that continues to this day on streaming and abroad (e.g. The Girl with All the Gifts, Train to Busan [both 2016], Kingdom [2019-2021], #Alive [2020]). I’m open to just about any cinematic concept in theory, but remain underwhelmed at the execution of the vast majority of the aforementioned projects realized as either found-footage projects or zombie flicks or both.

No matter what, don’t stop shooting! The film’s diegetic director (lead actor Takayuki Hamatsu) runs a chaotic show in One Cut’s first act.

Leave it to Japanese cinema, long overshadowed in the modern era by Korean filmmaking and dominated by animation, to challenge the conventions of those two styles. One Cut of the Dead (Japanese =カメラを止めるな!, Kamera o Tomeru na! or “Don’t Stop the Camera!”) is the feature directorial debut of one Shin’ichirō Ueda and became, almost by accident, one of the most profitable films in decades (budget = $25,000, box office = $31.2 million) after it generated rave responses at the Udine International Film Festival. Part cinema-verité style zombie horror movie and part film production comedy-drama, One Cut of the Dead is notable for its execution of goofy undead carnage via a genuine 37-minute handheld long-take as well as its nontraditional screenplay structure that recontextualizes its overall story with greater meaning. The end result is a multi-genre picture that celebrates independent filmmaking as much as it pays homage to contemporary cinematographic gimmicks like found-footage camerawork or zombie body horror.

The first act of One Cut consists entirely of that aforementioned oner, which feels like a freeform mockumentary project a la District 9 (2009) or End of Watch (2012) more than your typical found-footage feature where either (a) nothing happens, or (b) the camera shakes so much you think the earth will split in two. Other than the impressive technical qualities of this oner, its organic physical humor and great pacing justify this long-take as a sort of short film unto itself. It would’ve made a fine Netflix Original feature in that form.

Act Two subverted my expectations in a bad way (spoilers follow) at first, as the film flashbacks to a month prior and reveals the entire previous act was, in the universe of the film’s greater 97-minute script, a found-footage horror film made by a diegetic cast and crew. All the characters portrayed in the opening long-take were themselves members of a live television broadcast crew whose goal was to make a grungy, low-budget zombie feature in one take.

At first, this reveal kind of deflates the tension of the previous technical showcase in Act One, but the film’s secret weapon is how gradually it rebuilds that narrative tension for an equally exciting third act that depicts Act One’s same oner from behind the scenes. The portrayal of the on-screen family of Takayuki Hamatsu, Harumi Shuhama, and Mao Higurashi lends much heart to the latter two thirds of One Cut, with the former two actors showcasing great emotional range and the younger Higurashi’s small yet cute arc a product of the movie’s satisfying conclusion. Although this movie-within-a-movie setup has been done many times throughout cinema history (e.g. Singin’ in the Rain [1952], 8 1/2 [1963], Scream [1996-]Tropic Thunder [2008], The Artist [2011], Hail Caesar! [2016], Once Upon a Time in Hollywood [2019]), I can’t recall the last time a film in this format (1) waited this long to reveal its hand (i.e. to reveal it’s about film production), and (2) blended opposite genres this well, not to mention how effectively it comments upon its principal found-footage technique without distracting the viewer from the main storyline.

Act Three returns to the events of Act One’s unbroken long-take from a different perspective, giving a whole new meaning to the idea of a “full circle” ending.

After all that discussion, One Cut of the Dead’s much ballyhooed opening long-take doesn’t feel so much like the movie’s centerpiece as it is a nice, stylized introductory hook to draw audiences into its metatextual celebration of low-budget independent filmmaking. The found-footage gimmick and undead monsters remain integral to Shin’ichirō Ueda’s picture, but all three acts together become about so much more that even cinephiles sick of those features (yours truly) are won over by the film’s sheer likability. What could have been a narrative bait-and-switch somehow is more than the sum of its parts in One Cut of the Dead, so I recommend the film to all in need of a good cynicism purge and a strong dosage of feelgood storytelling.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Too many films about filmmaking lose sight of their original commentary or appeal only to those within the industry, but Shin’ichirō Ueda’s directorial debut is all about communicating the love and pain that goes into even the cheapest, least glamorous cinematic ventures. One Cut of the Dead executes this mantra without ever talking down to its audience and instead invigorates two of the most overused filmmaking tropes of the past generation, all within a creative screenplay structure that accentuates its film-within-a-film metatext.

However… viewing requires patience to understand the cheapness of the first act despite how memorable the opening long-take is.


? A human pyramid is perhaps the riskiest way to attempt a crane shot.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


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