My coverage of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead when it screened at the Mayhem Film Festival in 2018 was one of the most difficult reviews I have written. I was more determined than ever not to include spoilers: this film is most rewarding if you go in blind.
If you haven’t seen One Cut of the Dead, it’s essentially a low-budget indie horror film about the making of a low-budget indie horror film: mega-affectionate, meta-witty, and extremely successful. This is the stuff of filmmaking legend, a feature which cost the equivalent of approx. $27,000 to make and has made roughly a thousand times that across its worldwide festival run and home release.
On the surface, One Cut of the Dead is all about the teamwork involved in creativity, about problem management, and about family (both natural and chosen). Take a second look, and it also has something to say about the actors and artists who involve themselves in such endeavours, as well, in both a commentary and satirical sense. The pop-star-now-actress will avoid something unsavoury in her scene by claiming her agent won’t allow it; the pretty boy actor claims to see serious themes in the script where there aren’t any. What I found most interesting, though, is the way characters who are awkward or reserved most of the time are released from inhibitions and seem to become their real selves when they appear in front of a camera.
This might sound like a strange thing to say about a Japanese zombie film, but One Cut of the Dead is adorable to the core. Everyone I have shown it to has evangelised to another soon after.
In 2019, a TV movie spin-off was commissioned, called One Cut of the Dead: in Hollywood, and despite being slightly less than an hour-long, this one is bloodier, faster, with more sentiment, more swearing, and more ludicrous action…you know: like a typical sequel. The zombie story here follows Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama), the Final Girl from One Cut of the Dead. Like many final girls, she is traumatised from her ordeal and trying to start a new life, but (of course) the “thing” summoned in the first film still has her in its sights.
Akiyama is actually the actor who impressed me the most (across both films), as she had such range to present and did so like a natural. My favourite character, though, was Mao (Mao): a delightful wanabee director in the first film who reaches both a life decision and a career pivot in this second film, becoming a director by chance. Similarly, the assistant director of One Cut of the Dead, Yûya Nakaizumi, steps up to the director’s seat for One Cut of the Dead in Hollywood (though it is still scripted by Ueda).
Not only is One Cut of the Dead in Hollywood a proper sequel—with minimal scene-setting—but it’s all about the nature of sequels, too. If a film is successful, a sequel is simply expected, and the team is given little choice. Not only that, but it has to be bigger, and who cares if it makes sense, or if there are devices taken straight from the earlier film? The fans will cheer! They’ll love spotting little nods to the film they adore and will refuse to believe them to be signs of laziness.
That’s kind of an expectation, anyway, but as one of the One Cut fans myself (yes, I’ve got the T-shirt), I was wary at first. Like going to see a Final Destination sequel, it’s easy to wonder if the producers are just going to show us the same kind of things again but in a different setting. Well yes, but frankly it’s the way they do it that makes it worthwhile, squeezing as much homage to action sequels into fifty-six minutes as they can. There’s handsome John (Nozomi de Lencquesaing) channelling Nick Cage’s rage when he has a few minutes of the spotlight to himself; there is a “surprise” guest who turns up from the first film to save the day; there are flashbacks and throwbacks aplenty. Like One Cut of the Dead, One Cut of the Dead in Hollywood is much more entertaining than it first appears, and even more satisfying on a second watch.
Third Window Films has just released the One Cut of the Dead: Hollywood Edition Blu-ray in the UK, and it’s natural to wonder if it’s worth the expense. The disc contains both the original feature and the spin-off movie, as well as a number of extra features:
- Making of One Cut of the Dead
- Director Shinichiro Ueda Interview
- Raw “One Cut of the Dead” GoPro footage
- POM Instruction Video
- “One Cut of the Dead” Outtakes
These are all the same as the extra features in the Limited Edition Blu-ray from 2019, with one omission: Shin’ichirô Ueda’s short film, Take 8, is not included in the new release. That twenty-minute short from a couple of years before One Cut has no zombies, but like his more famous films, it also uses a film set as a medium to say something about the vocation of filmmaking. It is endearing, and certainly worth watching, but it doesn’t necessarily belong on a One Cut disc. Besides, this new Hollywood Edition is currently the only way to watch One Cut of the Dead in Hollywood.
So my recommendation is that if you don’t already have a copy of One Cut of the Dead, this new Hollywood Edition Blu-ray is definitely worth the investment. If you do already have the original film in a previous edition, take one last look at Take 8, then pass on the disc to an unsuspecting friend and buy yourself the new edition. Apparently, there are only 2,000 copies, so don’t hang about.
Postscript: One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote
There is one more One Cut film out there, a short film “completely made remotely!!” during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. This is not currently available on any home media, but it can be viewed on Ueda’s own YouTube channel. In One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote, Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is once again hired to direct, this time for a web series pilot, produced from self-filmed videos sent in from actors and extras in isolation. A similar set-up to Shudder’s Host, therefore, but with the One Cut charm and humour. This short ends with a drunken Zoom wrap party and poignant daydreams about what Mao might do when the pandemic ends. I wish I’d discovered One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote when it was first released, but considering nearly another year has gone by and we’re still not jumping up and down at gigs together, I still feel for her. Watching it also felt like catching up with friends again, which is another credit to Ueda’s character writing.