Every VIFF I make the effort to see some of the later shows, including the latest during the weekends at the Rio. The first I saw was the Japanese movie One Cut Of The Dead. It turned out to be a hilarious time.
The film begins with us seeing a young girl about to kiss her zombie boyfriend before killing him. Then Director Higurashi yells ‘Cut!’ This is a scene from a zombie movie being shot. However this is the 42nd take. The director is obviously frustrated. He berates the actress Chinatsu by telling her she lives a lie. He even abuses the actor Ko as he scolds him for his performance. However Nao, a middle-aged make-up lady, recommends a thirty-minute break to overcome the stress, to which the director accepts begrudgingly.
During the break, the two from the scene drink and talk with Nao while the crew and director go outside. Nao talks of how this used to be a water filtration during World War II and even demonstrates to them her hobby of learning self-defense. She even tries to teach them the Pom method for when being attacked by the back, but suddenly a severed arm comes flying in. Then we see the best boy Kazahara is a zombie. One of the techs has become decapitated. They’re all freaking out. But Higurashi likes this. Now that there are real zombies happening, he feels he can get some real acting out of them and calls action as the zombies are around.
It’s up to the three to flee their way out of this zombie mayhem. They leave the water site and try for the van. It doesn’t work out. Chinatsu goes into hiding, but is soon spotted by a zombified man. Ko tries to protect her, but time is running out as all zombies are after them. Meanwhile Higurashi is seizing each moment to shoot their parts. As they run for their lives, they head to the top of the facility. Chinatsu senses Ko is a zombie and that is the case. In the meantime, she has to deal with Nao who’s on the attack. At the end of it all, Chinatsu battles Nao and has no choice but to kill Ko in passion. Higurashi complains she didn’t do the scene right but she kills him on the spot. Chinatsu then goes to the area of the building where she stands in a star made of blood in triumph as the credits roll…
…and then we go back to a month earlier. There’s a channel in Japan that’s about to be launched: The Zombie Network. The channel has called Higurashi to direct an uncut zombie show as part of the channel’s opening. Higurashi has never really done zombie movies, but the network accepts him because of his motto of his films being ‘fast, cheap, but average.’ Elsewhere his daughter Mao has developed a reputation as a crew person. Frustrated with the junk she gets at work, she wants to develop into a career of filmmaking of her own. The mother Nao used to be an actress until she met Higurashi. Her marriage and the birth of Mao led her to forget about her dreams. She didn’t mind it, but now it’s become mundane as she tries to kill her time with hobby after hobby, including video lessons of self-defense.
Higurashi meets with the people to do with the script of the film entitled One Cut Of The Dead. The first rehearsal is crazy because Chinatsu brought her baby and they can’t rehearse well. Chinatsu also has issues as she is a major heartthrob and her agent says that being in a movie with too much blood can interfere with her star status. Also at the first rehearsal is nerdy Kazahara, a crewman whose stomach doesn’t go well with hard water, and a man with a drinking problem. Mao is originally disinterested in the project until she learns major teen idol Ko will be a part of it. This comes as moody Mao is about to move out of the house. Higurashi tries to forget about Mao’s move out until he talks with one of the men playing a zombie and he talks of how he misses his daughter. However when the actor who plays the director doesn’t show, people recommend Higurashi play the lead. Before Mao leaves, she talks with her mother Nao about her ambitions. Nao asks Higurashi to be a part of it.
Then comes shooting day. You can bet this could be a big break for Higurashi. First trouble is the crew man with the stomach issue drank hard water and the portaloos for the film and crew aren’t here! Secondly the man that’s supposed to play the zombie drank a whole bottle of sake and is drunk on the floor! The director tries to continue with shooting with the crew trying to help out however they can. Then the craziness. When it comes for the zombie’s part, Higurashi has to carry the drunken man to make him move into his part. Then comes the crew man with the stomach problem. He has to go outdoors and… you know. The crew try to help as much as they can. Mao tries to step in to save what she can. The network people are in an area away watching everything that is happening live and they don’t know what to make of what’s happening. Then Nao really gets into her part. The director knows she has to be controlled but she’s able to Pom her way out. She requires sedation! Then there’s the camera crane required to do the ending shot. It feel from the roof and is broken. So Mao and Higurashi organize a human pyramid for that long final shot. After a lot of misses, it finally happens with Mao being the camera girl on top. The whole insane craziness works to perfection. The show is a success!
The film is very creative and very fun. The film starts out as a zombie movie which we first think is a simple short film. Just for reference, the VIFF is known for showing a short film of 20-30 minutes before the actual feature. Most features with a short before the start list the short in the program. I myself thought that was the case. It was a short film meant to be shown before the actual feature. Then it became evident that it was a case of the short zombie show followed by the making of the zombie show from start to finish. That was very smart of them to do such a thing. Plus they make the story work. The making of the film is a story of its own in how this director is placed with this demand from the network, they try to get things ready for a month, the rehearsing starts out shaky, and then the director and his wife find themselves actors. Then there’s the hairiness of shooting as one actor got himself drunk on sake and one crewman has a bad stomach because of the hard water and one camera breaks. It’s like from start to finish, it looks like something that would fail or fall apart, but it works in the end.
Funny thing about the film is that it includes the family element of it all. The director has a reputation of being “fast, cheap, but average.” The daughter has earned her own experience on the set and feels she can establish herself. She feels it’s time to move out. The father doesn’t take the move-out well at all. Meanwhile the mother is a former actress who quit to become a full-time mother and housewife. She killed her time by adopting hobby after hobby, but her daughter gives her a chance to be an actress again by recommending her for the film. In the end, it helps bring the family together.
The film has been known for its surprise success in Japan. I don’t know about ‘fast, cheap, but average,’ but the film was produced by Tokyo acting and directing school Enbu Seminar at a cost of only $70,000 to make and made by mostly unknown actors. The film made its debut at the Udine Far East Film Festival in April where it won the second-place audience award. It has since been invited to 60 film festivals. Back in Japan, it made a box-office run starting in June. The film had modest expectations. Enbu Seminar hoped that 5,000 tickets would be sold during its box office run. Instead it became a big hit in Japan already amassing $24.4 million and is now the 13th-highest grossing film in Japan right now. When I went to see it for its 10:45 showing at the Rio, the theatre was surprisingly packed. Word has gotten around.
Top kudos to writer/director Shinichiro Ueda for inventing the story and making it come alive. His two-shows-in-one was fun to watch and very winning. The whole cast also has to get top kudos for helping to make this story come alive in a very entertaining way. They have as much to do with the movie’s surprise success as Ueda. You have to admit that it’s very rare to have a film within a TV show within a film. Excellent job!
One Cut Of The Dead proves to everyone who sees it why it’s the surprise hit in Japan. It’s the ‘guilty pleasure’ movie you won’t feel guilty about enjoying!