Ithaca Fantastik Review: ONE CUT OF THE DEAD

This film is part of Ithaca Fantastik festival, a ten day film, art, and music festival that takes place in early November in Ithaca, New York. The “fantastic” dwells in that unsettling terrain between the uncanny and the marvelous, a place where both supernatural and natural causes mix. Ithaca Fantastik runs until November 4th in Ithaca, New York.

The theatre kid in me loves the one-take gimmick. From Hitchcock’s Rope to the insanity of Russian Ark to things like the one take in Children of Men, not cutting builds a certain level of tension only attainable by a group of actors not breaking from a scene or moment for so long. A typical films editing and cross coverage will always lend itself to a repetitive, stale practice that can seep into a performance. Sure, when you edit you cut in the best takes, but that doesn’t always translate the same tonal energy between scenes.

It’s frankly why I find “method acting” so practical, rather than egoistic. While some take it one left foot too far, trying to live in to your character only betters an actors performance. And for non-method actors, a way to do that is the one take. In One Cut of the Dead, we see the lead actress (Yuzuki Akiyama) not connect with her fear in the opening moments, and through the 30+ minute one take we witness a transformation. She’s grounded, connected, and energized. Frankly it’s the only three things you need as an actor.

The irony clearly isn’t lost on the film as the director (Takayuki Hamatsu) continues forcing her into situations that’d look great in his film, much to her frightened anger, all the while we are still following the group as an omniscient spectator. We are in the action, but non-judgementally removed from it. We even see a hand wipe the lens clean at one point of blood splatter, all without asking ourselves ‘Wait, who is that now?’

And as the lead actress decimates the director with her ax and stares into the distance, her head cast to the sky as the camera pans to see her in the center of a massive pentagram. She glares at us as the title card comes up, and then the credits. And then...everything changes.

It’s impossible to fully discuss One Cut of the Dead, written and directed by Shin'ichirô Ueda, without spilling the beans on what makes the film so inventive, so if you’d like to go in with as much of a blank slate as possible, then I implore you to pause here, add this review to your Pocket, and wait until the film comes out on VOD. I’ll leave you with this: it’s every bit as touching, funny, and reflective of the horror genre as any other sublime horror comedies like Tucker and Dale Vs Evil and even a Behind The Mask: Rise of Leslie Vernon which has an equally engaging and entertaining cross cutting of horror and behind the scenes filmmaking. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed by One Cut of the Dead. But for those of you who don’t really care about spoilers….

Ya see, that fun zombie movie we just watched is actually the culmination of a dedicated team of filmmakers who’ve been hired to kick off an all-new-all-zombie television channel in Japan. To drum up attention and excitement for the network, they want to kick it off with a live television event: a 30m zombie film, shot live and in only one take by Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu). We flash back to months before the film is set to shoot, watching rehearsals, the directors family life, and getting to know all of the actors and their eccentricities we just watched in the first act. That main male zombie? Well, he (Kazuaki Nagaya) is just a J-Pop heartthrob looking to make a serious turn as an actor. The lead make-up artist? The directors wife (Harumi Shuhama), subbing in after the original actor is unable to go on. The first “real zombie” that we see? He (Manabu Hosoi) is a woeful alcoholic whose life is crumbling around him, but he still greets everything in life with a smile and a laugh. These are emotional bridges, especially the dynamic between the filmmaker father and his budding filmmaker daughter (Sakina Asamori) who ostensibly saves the show, that give the film and the audience a solid foundation so we don’t feel so bad laughing like school kids while a character gets diarrhea while having zombie makeup put on him. The film is touching so we can laugh at some of the juvenility. These bridges are also used brilliantly as the comedic beats during the actual filming, especially the progressively drunk Hosoi.

While the second half of One Cut of the Dead may be more straightforward than its freewheeling opening act, that’s purely by design. All of the quirks and pops of the first thirty minutes are made endearing by we, the audience, getting to see the big picture first, then truly getting to understand what went into making it. It really just highlights the innate physical comedy that goes into making a film or a play, the close calls and the “just in time”s that create that magic spark that makes something inalienably genuine. While we see the lens get wiped clean of blood effortlessly in the opening, the PA tripping and falling just to make sure the operator had that handkerchief is golden. That’s the type of secret that I never knew I wanted in a film: being shown a moment, only to realize that the making of that moment is fucking hysterical. One Cut of the Dead’s DIY quality is amiably endearing and ultimately blithely entertaining. I have no doubt in my mind that this will go down as one of the most refreshing zombie films in recent memory, destined to be talked about in the same breath as modern classics like Shaun of the Dead. If you see one zombie movie this year, make it One Cut of the Dead.