Director – Yuya Nakaizumi – 2019 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 57m
The first 16 minutes **1/2; the rest ***1/2
A zombie film being shot in one long, single take and set in a restaurant in Hollywood is attacked by zombies… or is it? – out as an extra on a One Cut Of The Dead Hollywood Edition Blu-ray on Monday, May 31st
Spoiler alert. The film is basically a copy of the first film, slightly tweaked but not really adding anything much to it. Similarly, this review is basically a copy of the review of the first film.
With a title that translates literally as “Don’t Stop The Camera! Spin-off: a great strategy for Hollywood!”, this is another loving homage to both the movie shot in one take and to the zombie movie. Or so it appears for its first 16 minutes, after which it turns into a comic drama about film making.
Let’s start where the film does, with its first 16 minutes. “6 Months after the tragedy, Chinatsu is a waitress in Hollywood. Struck dumb, she died her hair blond (sic) and renamed herself Holly.” Thus reads the opening title as waitress Holly / Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) ignores customer comments about her inability to speak. Both fellow waiter John (Nozomi de Lencquesaing) and manager Tommy (Charles Glover from ManHunt, John Woo, 2017 and Shin Godzilla, Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi, 2016) encourage her in the face of this adversity. Because you’ve already watched the original film either on this current Blu-ray release or the previous one, any revelations about this being a film not real life would be spurious since it’s basically a carbon copy of the first film and you already know that this is not a zombie outbreak but the shooting of a film of one.
Gone are the references to the collapsing filmic artifice at the start of Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981) unless you consider that once again, the performance given by the actress in the film within the film isn’t very good, so why did the film crew within the film re-hire her? As if he knows this is a pointless remake, the original’s director Shinichiro Ueda takes credits as executive producer and script but leaves the directing to Yuya Nakaizumi. Gone is the mad director exposing his cast and crew to real life zombies to get the best result he can on film. Gone too is the clever redeployment of the initial appearance of the zombies out of Night Of The Living Dead (George Romero, 1968). Also gone are the mind games the first movie played with the audience.
Anyone paying attention up to this point in the film will have noticed that everything is happening in one unbroken take in and around the Hollywood restaurant that serves as the set of the zombie movie shooting inside the zombie movie with the camera following characters up flights of stairs and in and out of doors to the outside world. This time round, you’re not wondering how characters running away from or into zombies is going to sustain in one take for 57-odd minutes because it lacks all the qualities that made the first one both compelling and hilarious (the film within the film in this spin-off is neither). At 15 or so minutes, we see the Hollywood sign in the background, soon abridged to Holly, at which point, the end credits roll.
A one month earlier flashback then reveals that the zombie TV channel (!) wants to run another one unbroken take, shot live for immediate broadcast, zombie special. From this point on, the film improves considerably, with its ‘making of’ section as watchable as that of its predecessor. Director Higurashi is back and now employing daughter Mao (Mao) who is doing most of the work to make the film within the film work. She has also become involved with her first boyfriend, John, an American actor living in Japan who plans to go back to Hollywood. The director’s wife Harumi (Harumi Shuhama) has left him for Tom, a dialogue coach.
We watch the prep for the zombie film shoot planned for Hollywood with some bizarre problems again arising among the returning cast. The lead actress can’t speak English, so the producer suggests her previously experienced trauma has turned her mute. Hosoda the cameraman is still an alcoholic, Yamagoe the sound man can’t fly due to his bowel problems. When the main backer pulls out at the last minute, the US shoot is cancelled and the production forced to shoot in a Japanese restaurant doubling for an American one.
Finally, we follow the shooting of the film which turns out to far more fascinating than the film itself. Moments that seem like directorial misjudgements – why does the mute Chinatsu suddenly start speaking and then run off “to save Tommy”? – are explained by seeing various production personnel sorting out problems onscreen while attempting to keep the film rolling. Mao’s perfectionism comes into its own when the planned ending with the Hollywood sign which is then shortened to Holly gets blown away by wind and she improvises several human letters to fill in the resulting gaps, covering various cast and crew members with white flour, as an alternate means to realise the finale. That extended gag is the element that impresses the most this time round.
If the initial 16-minute film is an uninspired plod, the truncated middle of the film works better by virtue of being tightened up compared to its predecessor, while the shoot of the zombie film at the end with its revelations again proves completely engaging. This time, the initial film fails to exploit the very thin line between horror and humour that the original did so brilliantly. The latter part of the film however again manages to be funny in a gently comedic manner. And its subject matter of a group coming together to complete a task to the best of their ability (the movie shoot where everything that can go wrong does) seems very Japanese: it’s hard to imagine the film playing out quite the way it does in any other culture. Did I mention any of this before?
One Cut Of The Dead In Hollywood is out on an all region, One Cut Of The Dead Hollywood Edition Blu-ray on Monday, May 31st.
Trailer (for One Cut Of The Dead):