I am really struggling to get through my list of missed movies from the 2010’s.
I shouldn’t be; the wife and I watch at least a little television together most nights. But the rub is that we have only recently started watching Community for the first time, and Amanda LOVES that. All of our free time now is “Hey, can we watch Community?”, “Put Community on”, “We have time to watch a Community or two”. She is laser locked onto it. It IS a pretty good show; I wish I had watched it when it was going on.
Anyway, I recently fought and won to watch One Cut of the Dead instead. She resisted and counter-offered more Community, but she ended up relenting. Work on the list, hooray!
So far then I have made it through Jojo Rabbit, Parasite, and now One Cut. Jojo and Parasite both checked in at 9/10 for me… does this one carry on the hit parade?
One Cut of the Dead is a Japanese film originally made in 2017, but not released in America until September 2019. It is available on the Shudder streaming service, which had previously brought me such great flicks as Deep Murder. It stars Takayumi Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Hiroshi Icihara, and Mao.
It’s… really hard to say almost anything about this movie without getting into spoiler territory, but I will try to edge around as much as I can before I get there. The thing is, One Cut is a movie that you really need to see with as little beforehand knowledge as possible. It will leave you a bit bewildered, but the payoff is worth it.
And yeah, I will confess that I spent much of the first thirty to forty minutes of One Cut saying “What even is this movie?”. Without knowing what’s going on, it’s incredibly strange. After about half an hour, there is a shift that starts to put all the pieces together, and that’s where the payoff begins. With that in place, we spent almost the entire second half of the movie in a laughing fit. Once the movie begins to explain itself, it becomes one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen.
So as with Parasite and Jojo Rabbit, I highly recommend One Cut of the Dead. But for more on the Why of it all, let’s dip into SPOILERS BELOW!
First of all, One Cut of the Dead is NOT a horror movie. It’s not even a horror-comedy. It’s just a straight up comedy, and the story is a love letter to the movie-making process. I had heard that the plot was that a real zombie outbreak occurs during the filming of a zombie movie, but that’s only two of the layers. The TRUE plot is that… *deep breath*… the characters are making movie ABOUT a zombie outbreak occurring during the filming of a zombie movie.
It’s a movie within a movie within a movie. And on the “reality” layer, there is no actual horror aspect… unless you count the terror of bringing together a difficult crew for the art of film-making!
One Cut starts off by showing you its own finished product. The first half-hour of the movie is the second level of the movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie in its entirety and in its own context. It’s abjectly weird, it’s C-grade, and it’s charming, but it does leave you wondering “what is the big deal with this flick?”. Even if you pick up that there’s another layer you aren’t yet privy to, it comes off as underwhelming. The product seems so slapdash.
When the opening movie–also called “One Cut of the Dead” just to mess with you even more–ends, we are taken back to its origin a month earlier. A notoriously cheap director who typically does guides and commercials is tasked with making a half-hour show for a new zombie network. The program is to be aired live as it’s filmed and shot all in one uninterrupted cut. The director initially laughs this off as absurd until he is assured the network is serious. At that point, he figures “why not?”.
From there we meet his wife, a bored former actress, and his daughter, an aspiring director who is relentlessly dedicated to her craft due to her bond with her dad. They end up being integral to the process because when it comes to One Cut–the one inside the actual movie, that is–everything that can go wrong does.
On the day of filming, two of the actors can’t show up, another gets passed-out drunk, and a fourth gets diarrhea from drinking out of someone else’s water bottle. Higurashi (the director) and his wife end up taking the roles of the missing actors. His daughter stays in the trailer and saves what she can by figuring out what scenes to cut and how to save the production. This is best part of the entire movie: once filming starts, all the seemingly odd “choices” of the opening film are explained. Everything about that movie that seemed “off” or nonsensical suddenly comes together. You end up sitting there and slowly realizing “Oh, this is going to be why that happened…”.
While One Cut of the Dead–the real one!–is essentially a film made to show how much attention and passion and effort can go into making even the worst of movies, it also repeatedly deals with the idea of art versus success. Is it just enough to complete the television program by any means necessary, even if corners must be cut? Or are there lines of integrity in the film-making process that simply can’t be crossed? You see both sides here.
One Cut of the Dead is hilarious, but not vapidly so. There is real heart to Higurashi and his daughter’s relationship while they keep the show on track and in how they force together the ending they know it needs… even as the studio is willing to mail that part in.
Honestly, if you’ve ever created anything, be it a movie or a podcast or a YouTube channel or whatever, that required working with other people, One Cut of the Dead is here to say “we’ve been there, and we feel you”. Making art–even if you don’t consider it art–is a labor of love… and it can certainly be laborious.
One Cut of the Dead is weird and confusing, and then it is hilarious and heartwarming. I genuinely barely stopped laughing at the making of the program. It’s short and leaves you wanting more, but it does everything it needs to do.