9.5 out of 10
Directed by Shin’ichirô Ueda
One Cut Of The Dead review:
I’m a huge fan of zombie movies, and yet I do recognize that it’s probably the most tired, most explored subgenre of horror out there. It doesn’t take much to make a zombie movie. Just get a little bit of pancake makeup, have your friends shamble towards the camera (or run, depending on your preference) and throw raw meat around. George Romero kicked our modern interpretation off with Night of the Living Dead, and we’ve had so many riffs on it since that I’ve lost count. Over here you’ve got Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, over here you’ve got Edgar Wright’s rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead – hell, there’s even a Cuban zombie film called Juan of the Dead that is a ton of fun and one you should definitely check out. I’ve often wondered what Romero would think about all these takes, and I imagine when he was alive he was probably equal parts happy, parts bemused, and even some parts bitter about it.
But if there was one zombie movie that I could bring him back to show him, to show just what his work has done for all of us who love cinema, it would be One Cut of the Dead, and it isn’t even a question. Without a doubt in my mind, this is the best zombie film since Shaun of the Dead – and it may even be better. What’s going to be even more frustrating for you as you read this is a couple of things: first, this film doesn’t have American distribution yet (although you people in the UK may get to see this thing pretty soon), and second, I can’t tell you a single thing, plotwise, about the movie. Not one bit. You may, in reading this, jump to the internet and read all you can about One Cut of the Dead, and if you want to spoil yourself, go ahead. But I strongly, vehemently, urge you not to do so. Trusting movie reviewers to have your best cinematic interests at heart may be a little loaded these days, but I’m asking you to take that leap and not read a single thing about One Cut of the Dead (except my review, of course, which is as spoiler-free as I can possibly make it). I can’t even give you the cast list.
There’s a reason One Cut of the Dead is winning Audience Awards in pretty much every festival it’s played across the world. And this may well be the most frustrating review you read about it. I normally struggle when I give a number rating to my reviews because the idea of quantifying a piece of art on a scale, while valuable to a casual movie review reader, has always been a little distasteful to me because you can’t really rank art like that. But that rating may be the safest thing you read about this movie, and the only reason I didn’t go full 10 is that the beginning, while utterly brilliant, may have you wondering why I reviewed this Fantastic Fest film at all.
One Cut of the Dead is the second feature-length film by director Shin’ichirô Ueda, and if there’s any justice his name will be at the forefront of a ton of projects going forward. He’s a playful, inspired director, who takes an exhausted genre like the zombie movie and injects new life into it in ways that are definitely not obvious in the first twenty or so minutes of One Cut of the Dead. And, if this gets the distribution it deserves, when American audiences sit down to it for the first time, they may well remember this review and throw some serious shade my way. To those people, all I can say is DO NOT WALK OUT. When you finally see what this movie is really about, and its big heart that beats so strongly like a cannon, you will thank me. All I can say is that the final third of this film gave me some of the deepest gut-laughs I’ve had all year, coupled with the sheer admiration and tenacity of the filmmakers in telling its story.
But who One Cut of the Dead truly speaks to are all those people in love with film so much that they want to pick up a camera, be it smartphone or 16mm, camcorder or RED digital, and make something that lasts. To those people, One Cut of the Dead is a rallying cry for anyone who ever wanted to make a movie and put themselves out there. We all have greatness within us, and sometimes it takes a little push from the most unlikely places to make it happen. One Cut of the Dead is about that push.
This film is inspirational in all the best ways, deeply funny, and such a barometer of the Japanese can-do spirit that it’s difficult to imagine a Western remake of it (though I don’t doubt that some distributor will try). Every year at Fantastic Fest I have at least one film that I want to revisit just to take part in the joy of it again. One Cut of the Dead will be that film for me this year. I hope so much that someone picks this up and it plays across screens everywhere. It’s a joyous, beautiful movie that smashes cynicism with a sledgehammer into a million pieces. This is one of the very best films I’ve seen this year.