Fantastic Fest Review: One Cut of the Dead

Japanese no-budget horror becomes an unexpected must-see

For every Ring or Grudge that made mainstream international horror audiences shriek, there was a low-budget straight-to-DVD or – even worse – TV anthology horror that was charming for its cheapness. One Cut of the Dead is one of those; but not that at all.

It begins as a meta-zombie romp: A film crew is making a cheapo horror movie in an abandoned factory, when real zombies appear and start chasing the lead actress. the gore is cheap, the orchestral score seems synthesized, and the supernatural pay-off seems clunky. What stands out is that it's all done in one 37 minute, edit-free, hand-held shot.

But even as cheap as it is, why does the camera stay rolling when the director yells cut? That's explained by what happens next: A flashback to several months earlier, when karaoke video director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is desperately pitching for a gig. His selling points? "Fast, cheap, but average," as he tells a producer who wants to make a cheap zombie show for a new horror channel. Higurashi knows his limitations, but this seems like fun, so he assembles a team of, well, anyone he can get, which includes his wife Nao (Harumi Shuhama) and daughter Mao (Sakina Samori), an overenthusiastic film buff with a habit for getting kicked off sets for being a bit of a know-all.

The film that opens the story is the film they made – so cheaply that Higurashi has to play the crazed director in the movie in a movie, while Nao ends up having to double up as make-up artist and performer (the latter a dream she had given up on years ago). And then the true magic happens. What starts off as a lo-fi gorefest quickly becomes an incredibly charming family comedy about life on the fringes of indie filmmaking, somewhere between Bowfinger and Living in Oblivion. The layers are really flower petals in bloom, and when Higurashi yells "cut" this time, you'll be crying and cheering.

Oh, and definitely stick around through the closing credits, to see how writer/director Shin'ichirô Ueda managed to pull off that opening 37 minute sequence. If you love finding out how making movies really happens, this is just one more joyous component of a film that will fill you to bursting with glee.

One Cut of the Dead

Texas Premiere
Wed. Sept. 26, 11:45pm

Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 20-27. For more news, reviews, and interviews, as well as our daily show with the podcast network, visit

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Richard Whittaker
That's One Pricey Burrito: Chuy's Sells for $605 Million
That's One Pricey Burrito: Chuy's Sells for $605 Million
Austin original acquired by Darden Restaurants, Inc.

July 18, 2024

Pale imitation of what made the original such an unexpected smash of a disaster movie

July 19, 2024


Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2018, One Cut of the Dead

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle