Zombie films have been a tired, creatively lifeless genre for decades. Besides Shaun of the Dead, the 21st century has not produced any truly classic horror films centered around our hungrily-meandering, half-corpse friends. At least, not stateside. If they have been produced, they certainly have not found success among an American audience.
People throw around the title of “cult classic” so often these days (and mostly when referring to films that don’t receive what they deem to be “fair” critical and audience reception) that the term is near-meaningless. I certainly could not think of any newly-released films I have seen in the last five years that would befit this monicker.
Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead premiered in two theaters in Japan last year. It was not expected to be a success. The budget was minuscule, coming in well under $30,000. It has since seen over two million admissions internationally, and I am glad that this film caught my attention when it was on the HIFF schedule this year, because I am not sure I would have seen it otherwise. I’m still not sure if, even after seeing the film projected on the big screen, if I will ever get the chance to watch it again. What a disappointment that would have been, missing what is at once a brilliant satire of assembly-line filmmaking, and a refreshingly-intelligent exercise in plot deconstruction.
The film takes place in three different acts. Two of them take place during the same scene. That is all I am willing to write in this review concerning the plot, because it is one of the most entertaining, revelatory, and yes, flat-out funny, that I have bared witness to in film this year. While others will certainly focus on the absurd and abundant humor present in this film (and yes, it is very funny), I would like to praise the cast and crew on their commitment to layering this humor and creating context to jokes like I have never seen anywhere in entertainment. Everything about the film makes more and more sense as the plot goes on, and at the end, you are left reeling from the increasingly-rare, fleeting thought that you just witnessed something truly, truly special.
Films like One Cut of the Dead are why times like this, during annual film festivals, are my favorite time of year. In no other place would you get the opportunity to see something with prior knowledge and still come out more surprised than you’ve been all year. They are what inspire other filmmakers to pursue their passion projects, no matter how seemingly humble, ludicrously absurd, or even impossible to film they may seem. Constant twists and turns, creative, backbreaking filming techniques, and true, palpable passion are what create the atmospheric buzz around films like this at events like HIFF. Savor the feeling, because it will not return for sometime, if ever again. Congratulations to all of the cast and crew for creating a film which helped a cynic like myself believe just a little bit more that my dream projects could come to life.