JAPANESE movie One Cut from the Dead started out as an experiment. Once its final cut was ready, this independent movie was supposed to have a six-day run at two small theatres in Japan. Instead, this debut feature movie of director Shinichiro Ueda, 34, ended up being one of the most-talked about zombie movies. More than a year since its release and after its re-release, this supposedly “zombie movie gone wrong” is still running in 360 theatres across Japan.
The film opens in an abandoned warehouse where a film crew is shooting a zombie film. It’s the 42nd take. Yet the director is not happy with the actor, who is under attack from a zombie, and wants her to express “real fear”. As the exhausted actors take a break, real zombies invade the set, which is supposed to be a deserted World War II facility. With the actors scurrying for cover, the first cut of the movie comes at its 37th minute. The 96-minute zom-com — which starts as a cliched zombie film and later turns its tropes upside down — unravels as a movie within a movie.
Its lead actor Yuzuki Akiyama, who was in Mumbai last weekend for the five-day Japanese Film Festival’s opening, shares the process of making the movie, which started at the Enbu Seminar drama school in Tokyo with the idea of having fun. “When we started doing our workshops, the idea was never to make a commercial movie. The workshop was two-month-long and we had fun,” recalls the actor, who began her career as a model and acted in the Ueda-directed short film Dreaming Novelist. The movie’s shoot, however, was much shorter, thanks to several rounds of rehearsals that the cast and crew had. The shooting got over in eight days.
One Cut from the Dead was shot in a warehouse two hours away from Tokyo. “There were cheap lodgings near the warehouse where the movie was shot. The cast and crew stayed in these lodgings, with six of them sharing one room,” says actor Harumi Shuhama, who plays the role of an overly dedicated actor in this sleeper hit. The process of editing the movie lasted four months and it released in November 2017. The movie made with three million yen has reportedly earned over 3,000 million yen by now. This makes it the seventh highest grosser among Japanese movies released last year.
The film’s now famous 37-minute opening shot required a lot of rehearsal. “There were six takes. Out of that, four times the actors carried on acting before the camera right till the end of the shot. On two occasions, we had to abandon it as things went wrong,” says Shuhama. On a few occasions, Shuhama and Akiyama had to think out-of-the-box and lip sync when things went wrong. That apart, the shoot did not have too many glitches.
Post the first cut, the movie switches its tone as well as packs in tracks about the crazy demands that reality television makes, a tender father-daughter sub-plot and the passion that runs the movie business. Even though Ueda, who has written its screenplay, might have drawn from his real-life experience of making movies, there is nothing autobiographical about it, clarifies the One Cut from the Dead team visiting Mumbai. They, however, share that the cranky baby shown in one of the scenes is Ueda’s child.
The first major realisation that One Cut from the Dead has an international appeal came last year when it was invited to be part of Italy’s Udine Film Festival. There, the movie got an overwhelming response. Since then, it has travelled to various international festivals, including the Mumbai Film Festival in 2018 where it had a repeat show following public demand.
After its stupendous success, the independent movie scene in Japan seems to have got a major boost. Producer Koji Ichihashi says, “More people are expressing interest in independent movies than they normally do. As a result, those making independent movies are more hopeful of drawing a larger audience for their upcoming movies.”
Some of the positive effects of the movie’s commercial success are already visible. “Earlier, indie movies were shown in theatres which can accommodate less than 100 people. Due to the popularity of this film, a number of them are now being shown in bigger theatres. This trend is getting better even though indie movies are still a minor part of the Japanese movie industry,” adds Ichihashi.