One Cut of the Dead [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Japan - VAP
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (9th December 2018).
The Film

"One Cut of the Dead" 「カメラを止めるな!」 (2017)

Led by an intense director (played by Takayuki Hamatsu), a filmmaking team is shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned rural facility. But things are not going accordingly as one shot featuring the heroine (played by Yuzuki Akiyama) being bitten by her boyfriend turned zombie (played by Kazuaki Nagaya) has gone through 42 takes, and the director is not at all satisfied. During the break, the make-up artist (played by Harumi Shuhama) tells the actors that the director chose the spot because of an urban legend - that the Japanese Army used to perform experiments in bringing back the dead which creeps out the main actors at the already tense set. But when the director actually performs the supposed ritual to revive the dead, the staff members of the production get infected one by one, leading the remaining to fight for survival. But to the director, he is getting all the panicky shots needed for the ultimate zombie film. But who will survive the insane ordeal?

One of the biggest attractions to the micro budget Japanese zombie film that is "One Cut of the Dead" is the opening 37 minutes, which was done entirely in one shot one take with no tricks or edits. The make-up, the bloodwork, the running, screaming, and insanity were all done on location with a minimal cast and crew of the actual film shooting the fictional cast and crew shooting their fictional film to excellent effect. Of course it is amateurish with the handheld camera, the blood splattered lens being cleaned with a rag in mid take, and some awkwardness of bridging scenes, but there is genuine fascination with the craft that is plausible from a technical standpoint and a gore factor that pleases the horror fans. Director Shinichiro Ueda created the acting group the Enbu Seminar in 2017 for a micro budget horror film, with auditions held and creative workshops held to create a script and scenario with crowdfunding as the main draw for the finances. While a few of the actors actors had some experience in stage, television, or film, there were some with no experience whatsoever. And even the ones with experience were in bit parts or supporting roles, with no particularly recognizable faces. For the director this would be his second feature following a string of short films and his name was not a major draw either. Opening on a single screen with no budget for advertising the 3 million yen budgeted film went on to gross 3 billion yen - a thousand times its budget with sold out screenings around the country. A gimmick of the "One Cut" zombie film was the main reason the word of mouth promotion increased audience numbers and screenings, but it was also another important factor that led audiences to the cinemas: and the audience who viewed the movie refused to spoil the rest. It's not only a zombie short - and staying after the credit sequence(s) would be essential.

Major spoilers from here!

The biggest reveal is what happens after the 37 minute opening and credits: and that is going back one month prior in the lives of the characters. Takayuki Higurashi (played by Takayuki Hamatsu) is a director who doesn't have a particular specialty. He does karaoke background videos, reenactment videos for news programs, and other minor works that are not particularly artistic or groundbreaking. He gets an offer from producers (played by Shinichiro Osawa and Donguri AKA Yoshiko Takehara) of a new Zombie Channel on cable. The project would be a 30 minute zombie short which would be done live on air and in one cut without editing or secondary cameras. While at first he laughs it off, he sees it as an opportunity to impress his daughter (played by Mao) and also his wife Nao (played by Harumi Shuhama) though it would not be easy. Each of the cast members would cause headaches for the director. Chinatsu (played by Yuzuki Akiyama) is a popular idol and her managers refuse to have her do certain things on screen, which causes cuts to the script. Ko (played by Kazuaki Nagaya) is a stuck up serious actor who questions the logic of the production causing massive rewrites, Mr. Hosoi (played by Mamoru Hosoi) is an alcoholic, Yamazaki (played by Shuntaro Yamazaki has stomach problems when he drinks mineral water. Over the course of rehearsals all the way up to the day of the live shoot, problems stack up to the limits and the greatest reveal is the final act of the film is a complete behind the scenes version of the zombie short as seen at the beginning.

What was first possible seen as continuity errors or mistakes by the cast and crew become evident that there were rhymes and reasons for every detail. Why the sound engineer did nothing for some time. Why the actors were stalling for some reason. Why the ax suddenly appeared. Why the make-up artists stood up after death. But also seen are the mishaps by the crew and panic as the production doesn't go accordingly. It's usually fun and fascinating to see a behind the scenes process with B-roll and making-of documentaries on DVDs and Blu-rays. But "One Cut of the Dead" goes one step or even two steps beyond that. The zombie short, the making of the zombie short, and even another meta shot with a GoPro camera capturing the behind the scenes of the short during the end credits. The latter portion of the film featuring the making of the short is an entirely different beast from the short, with a different look and a different feel altogether. The zombie short is grainy and features contrasted colors like an old low budget 16mm film like "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974), while the latter portion feels like a modern era HD shot production with its color space and fairly flat look. They are clearly separated yet clearly are part of the same production with the same actors and crew. What also makes "One Cut of the Dead" work is the quirky characters and their relationships. The family aspect of the Higurashis is the core of the piece. The father is feeling strain in the relationship with his daughter who is also in the movie business but does not see her father in the same light. His wife is supportive of all his works but gave up acting many years ago has a subliminal urge to return to performing. How this one project brings them together is genuinely sweet and something that is missing from genre films, and is a welcome addition because it works in fitting the story to a wonderful and heartfelt completion.

End Spoilers

The greatest strengths of the film is that it is not only a zombie movie. It has elements of a gory horror film, a family drama, comedic hilarity, behind the scenes antics and reveals, and a twist that surprises everyone who hasn't been spoiled by inconsiderate audience members. The film was shot for a few weeks in the June of 2017 mostly at an abandoned water treatment facility in Mito, in Ibaraki Prefecture. The main one shot one take was done six times with varying results. On end the sixth and final take was used for the film, though even that had its imperfections. The scene of Chinatsu peeling off the special effect blood sticker would not peel off in the take and was instead replaced with CGI. When Nao was explaining about the facility's past she actually got a line wrong in the take, but was ADRed with one of the other takes where she got the line correct. The film was edited and completed three months later in October, and advance screenings at a single theater in Tokyo for six days in November 2017 went extremely well with sold out screenings each time. The festival circuit for distribution domestically and internationally followed in 2018 with screenings at Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, Udine Far East Film Festival, Japan FilmFest Hamburg, and others. The film received a standard theatrical release in Japan on June 23rd 2018 following the international festival circuit, playing again for sold out crowds. Domestic distributor Asmik Ace picked up the theatrical rights immediately to distribute the film to a wider audience the following month and the momentum did not slow down. Word of mouth and media coverage only grew with the hype and eventually grossed a staggering 3 billion yen, making it the fifth highest grossing Japanese live-action film of the year so far, with a staggering 85% of the screenings being sold out in the first 80 days of general theatrical release. The cast and crew did not stop, with frequent appearances at screenings, having special screenings at festivals such as the Tokyo International Film Festival and continuing the festival circuit worldwide to rave reviews. It seems there is no stopping the little indie film that pays respect to the horror genre filmmaking while also creating something new and inspiring on its own. "One Cut of the Dead" is easily one of the most enjoyable and surprising films of the year.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray and region 2 NTSC DVD set

Video

VAP presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The opening 40 minute "short" is heavily grainy and stylized with blown out whites and contrast boosted colors to emphasize the greens and reds heavily, looking close to independent low budget horror films of the 1970s even though shot in modern HD. The latter half with the month leading to the shoot and the behind the scenes completely change things up looking like a slick HD shot production. Things look fairly flat though colors are sharp and well balanced. Scenes from the opening short that are repeated later on are given faux scan lines in addition to the processed colors for the "televised" effect. There are no errors to speak of in the transfer except for the intentional mishaps and looks accurate to the theatrical screenings.

The film's runtime is 95:58.

Audio

Japanese LPCM 2.0 stereo
Japanese Audio Descriptive LPCM 2.0 stereo

The original Japanese audio track is presented in standard 2.0 stereo, along with an audio descriptive track in 2.0 stereo as well with a male narrator. Like the picture, the first half and second half's audio track changes completely, with the first half having almost everything coming from the echoey location shooting in the abandoned structure while the second half's soundtrack is fairly straightforward with better quality overall, all intentionally. There are certain portions in the first half that are difficult to hear due to the shooting location and conditions with almost nothing ADRed, but the second half has no issues with the dialogue audio. The music is well balanced, never overpowering throughout the feature.

There are optional Japanese HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

Reviewed is the Amazon Exclusive edition, which has the standard Blu-ray that has the film and extras on one disc and an exclusive bonus DVD. The full contents are listed below.

DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Audio commentary by director Shin'ichirô Ueda and 15 members of the cast and crew (fun version)
In this group commentary Ueda hosts a huge group commentary in which the cast and crew reflect on the shooting with some behind the scenes stories sprinkled throughout. Though as the title suggests, this is a "fun" commentary filled with laughs and jokes most of the time, with the staff pointing out mistakes, adlibbed moments and praises for each other. Some of the participants leave or join midway through due to other commitments and some barely get a word in due to the overwhelming amount of speakers.
in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Audio commentary by director Shin'ichirô Ueda and costume designer Miyuki Fukuda (serious version)
In this "serious" commentary, the husband and wife team of Ueda and Fukuda look at a more technical side with the emphasis on costume design, homages to other horror movies, using the couple's house for shooting, having their three month old baby used for the production, where many references came from, and many more. This is the more informative of the two commentaries and includes a wealth of great information, and even though it is stated as "serious", the two find quite a lot of things to laugh about as well.
in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Making of One Cut of the Dead: Invincible Summer" documentary (43:58)
A comprehensive documentary starting from the auditions held by the Enbu Seminar in 2017, workshop exercises, alternate rehearsals featuring the actors in different roles, surprise birthday parties, B-roll from the shoot, all the way to the premiere are here. Very well edited and never outstaying its welcome, it's a very well done feature covering many of the aspects and not relying on talking head interviews or EPK praises.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Deleted Scenes (4:37)
Phone call to the studio, Hosoda not being able to wake up and apologizing for his drunken behavior, and a few more are presented, without color correction. None of them significantly change the story and can be seen why they were cut.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Stage Greetings (27:23)
A common extra found on Japanese releases are the stage greetings by the cast and crew at premieres and special screenings. While most of the time they can get old and tiresome since many of the stories are repeated over and over, this extra goes slightly in a different direction. It is a compilation of stage appearances by the cast and crew which did quite a lot since there really was no advertising budget, with the first stage greeting being shown the longest, while the rest is a montage of different stage appearances throughout the months with no repeated stories. There are many laughs and even tears of joy from the actors, who never expected their tiny movie that opened on two screens would become a major sensation to play on the largest cinema screens in the country
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Enbu of the Dead" short - A&B patterns (14:29)
Two short films by the Enbu Seminar featuring the cast of "One Cut of the Dead" which also have a zombie theme, though much different from the feature film. Shot in their workshop studio, the shorts have no bloody messes of scenes, but instead focuses on the interactions with the different actors.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"One Cut of the Dead" GoPro version (38:03)
As seen during the end credits of the film, the opening "short" was shot entirely in one take the main camera, and also with a GoPro camera just behind as worn by the director. This extra has the entire shoot from the GoPro, with no color filters, and audio sounding very tinny and low since the camera was not connected to the dialogue mic.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Pon!" instructional video (1:00)
The instructional video that is featured in the film can be seen here in full.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Sakina Asamori's Kame-Tome Dance" short (0:45)
A short dance routine with the ending theme song.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Japanese Trailer (1:03)
The theatrical trailer made to emphasize the immediate cult following.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

International Trailer (1:11)
Third Window Films' trailer is presented here with English text portions, but the dialogue portions are in Japanese without subtitles. The trailer is embedded below which has the English subtitles present.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with English text


DISC TWO (Amazon Exclusive DVD)

"One Cut of the Dead" rehearsal version (34:23)
The opening was done in six full takes. But before they were shot, the cast and staff went through a full rehearsal at the location. This rehearsal version has a few details missing such as the makeup effects and zombie contact lenses missing, the blood and gore not being implemented, and the take continuing even with obvious mistakes. Crew members appear by accident and some actors miss their marks entirely but this is a test run and it's fascinating to compare what worked and what didn't, and also what changed for the final run.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


44 Page Booklet
Included is a booklet to mimic the red script often seen in the production, and the entire script for the opening short is presented in the booklet in small text - much too small to be the actual pages. In addition there are a director's message and introduction, quotes from critics, a timeline of events, a map of the building, tex bios, a map of the building, a timeline of events of the Enbu Seminar leading to the production, and a roundtable discussion between the cast and crew.

Packaging

The Blu-ray is packaged in a Digi-pack case that also holds the booklet. There is no slipcase but a plastic bag with a seal that is to close the case. The Amazon Exclusive DVD comes in a separate DVD-sized keep case.

Overall

"One Cut of the Dead" truly came out of nowhere to prove that the zombie genre isn't out of ideas. An incredibly entertaining and creative meta film, the tiny budget film with no big name stars became one of the most acclaimed films of the year and one of the highest box office grossers in Japan. The VAP Blu-ray features an excellent transfer and wonderful extras, with the Amazon Exclusive disc offering a stellar extra as well. Though it does lack foreign language subtitle options which most likely would turn off most international fans. To note the first English friendly release will come from Third Window Films in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD in January 2019. An easy recommendation and an essential film in any film lovers' library.

The Film: A+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A

 


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