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Simon Read [Celluloid 09.19.19] Japan zombies comedy

What is it with Japan and its knack for breathing new life into the zombie genre? From Wild Zero to Versus and Miss Zombie, their films may be bonkers, but they are consistently inventive and entertaining. This brings us to One Cut of the Dead, Shin'ichiro Ueda's meta-tastic zombie comedy which, for me, stands as one of the strongest recent entries in a genre which has been done to death. If you see one zombie film this year, make it this one.

The film opens with a single, unbroken shot lasting 37 minutes, an astonishing and audacious feat in itself. This scene concerns the crew of a decidedly unremarkable zombie b-movie shooting in an abandoned water treatment facility, as they are suddenly attacked by real zombies, the psychotic director having conjured these ghouls in an effort to add some unexpected realism to his flagging project. A single-camera follows cast and crew as they fight for their lives, before the film suddenly zips us back to 'one month previously', and we meet all players as they prepare to embark on the film. From here is gets complicated, and spoilery, so any specific plot description ends now. Other reviews may be less considerate.

The strength of One Cut lies in its ability to constantly surprise us. Whenever I thought I had a handle on this film and where it was going, it would pull the rug out from under me, not simply in its unusual narrative framework, but with constant call backs and carefully constructed, self-referential gags. At first, certain elements might seem slightly off (why, during the first segment, is the camera operator acknowledged by the actors one moment, yet ignored the next?) but it all comes around as the film progresses, and in a very satisfying way. While some of the humour is downright silly, enough thought has gone into the overall structure of the film that one can't help be impressed by its ingenuity and energy.

The film blends (or bends) genres, starting off with a frenetic zombie action sequence, before abruptly shifting gears into a satire about the film industry, finally rounding off with something akin to a screwball comedy of errors (and triumphs) in which it feels as though anything goes. It's populated by colourful characters - the frustrated director of commercials and corporate videos who longs to create real art, a pretentious pretty boy lead actor, his precious pop star actress co-star and an alcoholic character actor who can barely remember his lines.

The film's character caricatures are lightweight, existing as exaggerated parodies, but the film doesn't aim for depth, rather for fun, and its buoyancy and cheerful craziness help to carry us along. I liked the in-fighting between the camera and effects crew, and depiction of the producers as cool but clueless hangers-on. A side plot about the director reconnecting with his adult daughter despite, or because of, all the chaos around them works well to provide the film some pathos too.

It's an ambitious film, a kind of 3-in-1 movie, trusting its audience to stick with it until the final punchline, gleefully aware that we're catching all these little moments as the plot unfolds and which make the film such a wild ride. It's tempting to say that it feels as though the actors are having fun making this movie, but in all likelihood they were working insanely hard specifically to make it look that way, sweating buckets to hit their cues and pull it all off - which they do exceptionally well.

One Cut of the Dead is a film that really pays off. It manages to subvert the genre while respectfully paying homage to its most cliched tropes, the conceit of its metatextual twist acting as something of an ironic statement about the tired state of zombie cinema itself (not to get too fancy pants). It's also just a really fun movie, made with passion, a sly wit and great deal of skill. If you're bored of zombie movies (and I am BORED of zombie movies) then watch this one - it tries something new, and it succeeds. Bravo.

One Cut of the Dead is currently screening in NY and LA and will be available on Shudder soon.

Recommended Release: Miss Zombie

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