Story: Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) is attacked by her friend Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) who turned into a zombie. She desperately tries to fight back, but in the end, she gets bitten. Suddenly, director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) yells "cut" and seems anything but pleased with the performance of the young women Chinatsu. He wants to see real fear on the actresses' face. His demand for high standards seems especially surprising as he is shooting his movie with a very low budget. But at least, the set - a water treatment plant - is very well chosen and creepy. Unhappy with the situation, Higurashi calls out to a crew member to pour the blood on the roof now. The cast is not sure what the director means by that, but make-up artist Nao (Harumi Syuhama) seems to know a little bit more about that. In fact, the plant was once used by the military to do secret experiments. They tried to make the dead come back to life. Now, one of the crew members suddenly shows up as a zombie. At first, the actors think that this is the director's attempt to scare them and get authentic emotions. However, it soon becomes obvious, that real undead creatures spread terror at the plant. Apparently, the blood on the roof was part of a ritual through which the dead were brought back to life. Chinatsu flees with the rest, but the director keeps turning up with his camera and tries to capture their desperate fight against the zombies. Finally, he manages to get the authentic emotions he was frantically looking for. But now, it's highly doubtful that his film crew will ever make it out alive...
Review: 100 percent on rottentomatoes, excited critics and festival goers. There has to be some sort of disappointment following those high expectations. That's why I thought it would be smart to lower my expectations. And that was a good thing. Because the first 37 minutes of "One Cut of the Dead" by no means represent the zombie-comedy-highlight everybody talked about, even if it is impressive that this part of the movie was shot in one single sequence. But what follows is what makes the movie so original, exceptional and brilliant. The movie jumps from one meta level to the next and by that represents a homage to classic zombie movies as well as indie movies in general. And indeed, after the first third of the movie there is finally something to laugh about - in fact, quite a lot of that. The situational comedy is great and at the same time it stands as a declaration of love to filmmaking, when a team works together to make the almost impossible possible.
The first third of the movie is shot in found-footage style. Wisely, the actors are therefore no well-known faces and their acting skills vary from purposely mediocre to brilliant. Now and then, there are some moments that are irritating. Why is there such a weird pause during one of the dialogues? Or you can criticize that some scenes don't seem coherent. Why does one of the actresses get up again, even though she has an axe in her head and isn't a zombie? And worst of all: Why does the director yell directly into the camera, at one point? Clearly, we are dealing with a movie which is shot within a movie, but breaking the forth wall like that does leave a nasty taste in your mouth. On the one hand, it is impressive how they manage to shoot such a long period in just one single shot without any serious mistakes. On the other hand: Purposely shooting in a gritty and jittery hand-camera style nowadays doesn't impress anybody anymore.
To be honest, the first 37 minutes are actually pretty boring. There's nothing happening that you haven't seen somewhere else already. From this point on, there are bound to be some spoilers. So be warned. After the alleged and pretty early end credits, the movie jumps one month back in time. We see the director as a completely different person, he is gentle, good-natured, but rather unsuccessful in his job. And now he is supposed to shoot a short zombie movie live for a new zombie channel. Of course, a lot of things go wrong at that. Admittedly, the movie's pace is getting slower here, but that is okay. We get to know the characters, their oddities and more specifically, we get to know the director and his family. Although we have to wonder why his wife also acts in the zombie flick, even if another actress was meant for the role. But as mentioned before, a production like this is predestined to cause some difficulties.
And suddenly, everything makes sense. The various inconsistencies during the first third of the movie are shown to us once more through behind the scenes footage, but this time, shot with a normal camera. Actors showing up on set drunk, another one having diarrhea, an actress who enjoys herself too much in her role and goes off script so that everybody else has to improvise - all this gives us an explanation for all those bumpy moments in the first third of the movie. This means that the inconsistencies and problems of the low budget zombie flick were actually meticulously planned by the real director and script writer Shinichiro Ueda! At this point, the movie gets a completely new touch and you just have to applaud Shinichiro Ueda for his brilliantly written script and the fact that he also gave his directing debut here. In addition, the humor also hits home, for instance, when a crew member jumps through the frame almost doing a dive roll, only to bring an important prop to the next scene in time without being captured by the camera.
It is the genius way in which the weaknesses of the low budget movie are explained that make the picture so fascinating. You'll hardly get to see this mixture of precise planning and hilarious improvisation in any other movie and it is what gives "One Cut of the Dead" its originality. Moreover, there is a story about a family growing together by following their dreams hidden in there as well. If that's still not good enough for you, there is also the real end credits, during which you see another perspective of the real film crew shooting the first third of the movie. You can't get any more meta without becoming confusing. At the beginning of the movie, you would have never believed that by the end of it, you'd sit in front of the screen pleased and with a huge grin on your face. With the first third of the movie, the director took a huge risk, but if you manage to get through those 37 minutes - some people might even enjoy that part - you'll be richly rewarded. That feeling of getting something wonderful done together, despite adverse circumstances, is something very special and "One Cut of the Dead" manages to portray that feeling in a brilliant way.