We open in an abandoned water treatment plant. We see a male zombie slowly approaching a terrified woman. She pleads with the zombie to recognize her and for him to wake up. But it's too late, the zombie sinks it's teeth into her neck. As she abruptly dies, which is played comedically, she tells the zombie that she loves him. After a few seconds, we the audience hear, "Okay Cut!" The camera begins to pan around the room. We see a filmmaking crew standing with a sense of uncertainty as they stare at their director (Takayuki Hamatsu). "How many takes?" he asks. The reply, "That was the 42nd." The director, clearly irate, approaches the young actress. You can feel his rage as he "directs" the actress. He begins screaming that she isn't exuding the fear he needs to make the scene work. He ends his rant with, "Wanna know why you look so fake? Because your life itself is utterly fake!" You could say he isn't an actor's director. Just as the director concludes his directorial notes for the actress, the man playing the zombie asks the director if he can relax and not go so hard on the actress. Now the director's rage is twice amplified. He grabs the actor by the collar and starts screaming at him. Exclaiming that he's been slowing the production down all along. Just as tensions reach a fever pitch, members of the crew suggest they should take thirty to calm down and regroup.
As the crew disperses, the zombie, Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) and Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) begin heading back towards the craft services. Quite possibly the sorriest excuse for craft services ever. As the two chat, Ko believes the director is going overboard while Chinatsu believes her acting isn't strong enough. We learn here that the two are in a relationship off set as well as on. Still clearly shaken, Chinatsu is approached by the make-up designer, Nao (Harumi Shuhama), who does her best calm Chinatsu. To do so, Nao jokes with her that the director is insane. As she continues to talk to Chinatsu and Ko, we learn that the location might actually be haunted. The two actors look less than comforted by this rumor. Nao indicates that the abandoned water treatment plant may have actually been used by the Japanese army for human reanimation experiments. And in filmmaking 101 fashion, just as Nao concludes her statement about the location being haunted, a loud bang reverberates throughout the warehouse. At first, the three are startled but ultimately end up paying it no mind and continuing their conversation in getting to know each other slightly better. Which is part of the game when you're on a film set. Typically, there's more downtime than actual work.
As the conversation goes on amongst the actors and make-up designer, the camera begins to pan and start tracking the boom mic operator as he walks outside. The camera shifts from the boom mic operator to the script supervisor who is outside having a smoke. As he tries to light the cigarette, a zombie pops up from behind him. While initially startled, the gasp turns to a laugh as he notices that the zombie is an actor who wasn't "painted" in the original script and is now head-to-toe in zombie makeup. But the light mood quickly turns dark as the freshly "painted" man vomits into the face of the script supervisor. The Japanese vomit on more people than anyone in the history of film. As the script supervisor screams, chunks of vomit dripping from his face, the camera pans back to the warehouse door, slowly creeping towards it. As you see the actor's reaction to the script supervisor's scream a severed arm is tossed into the middle of the frame. Instead of evading with haste, Ko, Chinatsu, and Nao stare at the severed arm in confusion rather than terror. It is Nao who approaches the arm first. She asked the actors if they remember seeing the severed arm on the prop truck. The actor's faces definitely convey that they have not seen that prop or anything similar to it since they've been on the shoot. The three take a closer look and marvel at the severed arm's realistic look. Simultaneously, the script supervisor, now looking zombified, stumbles into the plant, closing distance on the three. They all laugh thinking they're being pranked. But the laughs turn into screams as they quickly realize, it's not a prank at all and the script supervisor may actually be...dead. Chaos begins to ensue. The actors and make-up designer start to believe that there might be some validity to the idea that the water treatment plant is haunted. During that realization, hilarity abounds as they lead the zombified script supervisor away from them and out of the treatment plant...by making him fetch his severed arm. Like a good dog, he chases. Suddenly, the director who stormed off in a rage 10 minutes prior shows back up on set with camera in hand. He's filming the three as they catch their breath from their escape of the zombie. The three are wondering why in the world he would be filming this. His response..."This is true filmmaking." Filmmaking free from fiction and lies. With the exception of the director, the audience as well as the other characters now find out the director's true intentions. The intention of starting an apocalypse in the hopes to make the most terrifying, most realistic zombie movie ever made. Panic sets in for the cast and crew. They don't waste much time in deciding that they have to leave this place, and fast. They escape to a van off set but quickly realize if they want to leave, keys to the van are needed... We segue not having keys to the director opening the door, camera in hand, with a look on his face that would make Jack Torrance proud. He insists that the action must go on. With no keys, and a batshit director shoving a camera in their face, Ko, Chinatsu and Nao bail from the van. They soon find out their best bet would probably be to get back into the water treatment plant. At least it has doors. Doors with padlocks.
Once back in the plant, amongst collecting themselves, Nao notices that Chinatsu ankle has possibly been scraped, has possibly been cut, has possibly been....bitten. Without any chance for Chinatsu make a case, Nao wastes no time in attempting to remove her from the equation...with an axe. With the help of Ko, Chinatsu is able to escape to the rooftop of the water treatment plant. However, Nao easily breaks free from Ko and continues her hot pursuit of Chinatsu. Chinatsu makes her way outside and to the roof. But Nao is behind her, leaving Chinatsu cornered unless she jumps off the roof. Which is not in the cards. As Nao slowly approaches Chinatsu, Ko quickly intervenes before Nao can take the axe Chinatsu. A struggle ensues. But the camera pans to Chinatsu and we just watch her reaction to what is happening out of frame. Marvelous sound design utilized here. After about 30 seconds, the camera pans away from Chinatsu to see the aftermath of the fight between Ko and Nao. Nao is on the ground, motionless...with an axe in her head. Ko seems as if he can breathe now and walks towards Chinatsu looking for a warm embrace. However, Chinatsu is having none of it. She screams "Don't come near me!" Ko is completely confused. For he isn't a murderer...is he? Chinatsu runs back towards the stairs from which she came. Right then Ko screams as if something has him by the leg. We the audience do not see whatever it may be. Then Ko falls out of frame. We pan back and begin to follow Chinatsu ascending the stairs of the rooftop. We pass the aftermath of what we've seen up to this point. Chinatsu manages to find a shed of sorts and hides there for the time being. While she hides, she investigates her ankle. The ankle that Nao assumed was bitten. Turns out, she was not bitten. After a sigh of relief, Chinatsu collects herself and begins to investigate the surroundings outside of the shed. Bodies lay everywhere. But there looks to be movement north of her, back on the rooftop. Could it be? It is! It's Ko. Even though she tried to escape him just moments before, she is relieved to see him, and sprints towards the rooftop.
As Chinatsu reaches the top of the steps, she sees Ko, with his back turned. Just mere feet away, she calls out to him. No response. After repeated attempts, Ko finally turns around. But he isn't the Ko we know...he is...undead. Chinatsu quickly grabs the axe. As Ko lurches towards Chinatsu, our insane director enters the frame. "Now...the climax!" The director continues to roll the camera, offering no help to stop Ko from eating Chinatsu. We have come full circle, now Chinatsu is giving the emotion the director wanted a mere 30 minutes prior. She is terrified, exhausted, broken. She stares back at Ko, pleading with him to wake up. But then we have a pause. She stares off frame for a couple beats, "I love you," she says...and then swings the axe at Ko's neck. A now headless Ko falls out of frame. The director looks down at Ko and then back at Chinatsu and screams, "What the hell? Stick to the script!" Chinatsu has had it with the director. She screams, raises the axe and begins to chase the director who doesn't make it far before he succumbs to the axe's blade. One, two, three, and a fourth hack for good measure. The director's screams have now stopped.
A Chinatsu with a thousand yard stare now walks along the rooftop. Head to toe covered in blood. She stops halfway to the edge. The camera now starts to pull back behind Chinatsu. As the camera reaches it's destination, we now see Chinatsu standing in the middle of a 6-pointed star. She slowly turns, gradually raising her eyes to the lens of the camera. She pants. "One Cut of the Dead" appears on screen. Credits begin to roll. Chinatsu still staring back into the camera. After the credits finish the editing dissolves into the monitor of the cameraman..."Okay Cut!" And we fade to white.
And THAT was a 37 minute take with "no cuts."
We fade back up from white to a cityscape. The titles read "One Month Ago."
The next 45 or so minutes follow the cast and crew as they get the parts for this new and exciting project that they'll be working on. A zombie flick that takes place at an abandoned water treatment plant for a TV channel that shows nothing but zombie oriented projects.
Why give us almost a shot for shot analysis of the first 37 minutes? Well, quite frankly, because if you're a fan of horror, especially zombie pieces, nothing happens in that 37 minutes that you haven't seen before. The genius is in how it's done and how it came to be. The first part of the film is exactly as advertised. The second is a humorous take on the characters, their past, and also a satirical look at the film industry itself.
This film doesn't work without the entire cast and crew clicking on all cylinders. Each character in the cast is almost completely different from the people they are in "real life." So, what's that mean as an audience member? We get to see their range as actors. In fact, I urge you to watch it a couple of times as I have. Even if you appreciated it during your first viewing, it is almost a guarantee that you'll enjoy it even more on the second. You start to pick up on things that you wouldn't of known to be looking for on your first watch. I attribute these razor sharp scenes with an attention to detail to the very calculated, very applaudable writer/director Shin'ichiro Ueda. The man clearly knows preproduction and made sure his cast and crew was prepared to deliver. And they did...in spectacular fashion. One Cut of the Dead isn't just for horror fans but also fans of satire and elite filmmaking. See it...more than once.
One Cut of the Dead opens in NYC (IFC Center) and LA (Alamo Drafthouse Downtown) on September 13th, with 60 one-night screenings across the US and Canada slated for Tuesday, September 17th. The film will also arrive on Shudder later this year.