written and directed by Shinichiro Ueda
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. It begins with a young woman (Yuzuki Akiyama) running for cover in an abandoned factory, but lo, her zombie boyfriend (Kazuaki Nagaya) proves inescapable, and sinks his teeth into her neck as she tells him she loves him one last time. Then a director (Takayuki Hamatsu) yells cut and proceeds to berate his actress for still not being realistically devastated after 42 takes. When he storms off in a huff, the actors commiserate and the makeup woman (Harumi Shuhama) chimes in with a little lore about the factory involving medical experiments on the dead. On cue, a "real" zombie appears, setting in motion a bloody chase through the studio and nearby woods as cast and crew unleash their inner Ash and struggle to evade the contageous bite of the infected. Lasting 37 minutes and unfolding as a "single" shot, this is a dumb but energetic sequence indebted as much to the climax of Children of Men as to any zombie movie (though particularly Romero's--the undead are a nostalgic mint green). And then credits roll, and One Cut of the Dead flashes back one month earlier to the inception of what we just saw: a (fictitious) one-off for Japan's Zombie Channel, also called "One Cut of the Dead" because it was shot live without any editing.
The director, Higurashi, who will go on to play himself in the TV special, turns out to be the exact opposite of his tyrannical alter ego; his motto, he says with a bit too much zeal, is "I'm fast, cheap but average." He hires actors who are all difficult to steer for their own unique reasons (ego, alcoholism, one is his wife, etc.), and we watch the whole thing unfold again from behind the scenes, revealing some of the more memorable moments to be happy accidents or the product of swift thinking on the part of the director's daughter, Mao (Mao), a high-strung film student--Higurashi may in fact be channelling her in his on-screen performance--whose presence ultimately inspires her father to take pride in his work, even when the execs are content with his coasting. (Higurashi, in turn, seems to impress upon Mao that directing requires patience, diplomacy, and flexibility.) By the time the entire cast and crew forms a human pyramid to replace a broken camera crane, One Cut of the Dead has joined the ranks of Day for Night and, indeed, Bowfinger among movies that literally adhere to Truffaut's demand that "a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema." The rallying spirit here is as moving as any Rocky triumph, and it's compounded by the surprisingly sweet father-daughter story at the movie's core. The postmodern approach is also not as confusing as it sounds, although a closing-credits montage pulling the curtain so far back that we see the movie behind the movie behind the movie lays on the meta a little thick and, in a weird way, shatters One Cut of the Dead's precious illusion. Fantasia Fest 2018 - Programme: Fantasia Underground