I take a look at a work of absolute low-budget genius.
A small group is trying to film a low-budget zombie movie called One Cut of the Dead at an abandoned water filtration plant. After failing to get a shot on the 42nd take, Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) calls for a break. The leads, Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) and Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama), take a break and speak with the make-up artist Nao (Harumi Shuhama), who informs them that the water filtration plant was actually abandoned due to experiments by the Japanese government in trying to raise the dead. They soon discover that there is an actual zombie outbreak happening outside. Moreover, they find out that the director is the one who caused it so that he could film the perfect zombie film. The three are soon on the run from the undead and the director, while the cameraman never stops rolling. Eventually, Chinatsu ends up killing the director and an infected Ko… at which time the director yells cut.
We’re then taken back a month to see how exactly this happened. It turns out that this show was intended to be a live broadcast to promote the new Zombie Channel. The gimmick pitched to Director Higurashi was that the movie will be about a director who goes crazy while trying to film a zombie movie and summons real zombies and that it will all be done in one single take. We then see the casting of the movie and how the director is trying to deal with the insane task of shooting a live single-camera zombie movie. The actor playing Ko is a celebrity who has difficulty taking orders, another is a drunk, and another has a sensitive stomach. On the day of the actual shoot, the actors set to play the director and the make-up artist get into a car wreck, forcing the director and his wife to step into their roles. Unfortunately, everything starts to fall apart, with a drunk zombie, a knocked-out cameraman, broken props, and an actress who goes crazy and forgets that she’s acting. Ultimately, the director manages to pull off the impossible, with a little help from his aspiring director daughter, Mao (Mao).
I have to start this off with a funny story. I thought I’d seen this movie. Really, I did. I had watched it all the way through once and I had turned it off at the credits. At the time I thought it was really short, only like 40 minutes, but it had been one single take, so I was super impressed anyway. Well, as it turns out, I had literally only watched the first act of the movie. When I signed up for a free week of Shudder in order to watch this movie, I noticed that the runtime was like 90 minutes, so I kept watching through the first credits sequence and finally saw the rest of the movie play out, and it was amazing.
The prompt for this entry was a “Great Low-Budget Film.” Even having only seen the first third of this movie, I was impressed with it, because, again, it is a single take film that ends up being pretty funny even if it’s cheap. Apparently this movie was made for about $25,000 and has grossed over 1000 times its budget in addition to receiving a heavy dose of critical acclaim. While the movie does look cheap and the acting often looks ridiculous, the movie’s script, and its very nature, makes that appropriate. The fact that it’s a cheap movie within a cheap movie within a cheap movie makes almost anything that seems “off” work on one of the levels. Then, add in the multiple levels of meta humor and even the things that don’t work end up working. Bad acting? It’s improv during a live show. Weird moments? It’s someone dealing with a drunk or a crazy co-star. What’s funnier is that, even though I’ve only been in a handful of productions, most of the stuff that happens in this movie has happened to me (minus the axe-wielding).
It’s really the third act where we watch the behind-the-scenes of the first act and we see how hard everyone was working to keep it going and how much it was going off of the rails. Since the movie is ostensibly about a production going awry because of a director, it’s balanced in the end by the directors being the heroes who keep solving the problems. Moreover, it drives home exactly how insane an accomplishment the first act is, even if it wasn’t really a live production. Apparently the 37 minute long-take actually took six tries to pull off, but actually doing it as a single take when, like Birdman, you could probably have used editing to make it look like one is an amount of dedication that’s hard to ignore. Making this movie probably looked a lot like the making of the movie found within the movie: A bunch of people working their asses off.
I will say that the big difference between the movie and reality is that in the film, the director is given this task by someone else and is basically told to make it work, whereas Shin’ichirô Ueda, the actual director of this movie, brought it all upon himself. I wonder if he actually enjoyed putting the blame on someone else for this difficult task within his fictional construct.
Overall, this movie is a combination of a pretty fun zombie film with a really fun, almost zany, comedy. It’s worth signing up for a free week at Shudder to watch it. And no, they’re not paying me, I just like the movie and the service. If they would like to give me a free subscription in order to review their films, though, I wouldn’t say no (hint hint).
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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