Release Date(s)2017 (June 2, 2020)
Studio(s)ENBU Seminar/Shudder (RLJE Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. It’s also the second rule, of course, although there are a few other rules not directly related to the first two. On the other hand, there’s only one rule regarding One Cut of the Dead, and it’s that you just don’t talk about One Cut of the Dead. Any other rule would be superfluous.
Okay, then, so how do you actually talk about One Cut of the Dead? A plot synopsis, however basic, is already a spoiler. Discussing the style in which the film is shot is also a spoiler. Even the title itself is a spoiler, though thankfully it’s one that only makes sense in hindsight. (The original Japanese title Kamera o tomeru na translates into a spoiler of a slightly different kind, so it’s best to avoid looking that up until after you’ve watched it.) It may sound trite to say that the less that you know going into a film, the better, but One Cut of the Dead is one film where—well, the less that you know going into it, the better. If revenge is a dish that’s best served cold, then One Cut of the Dead is best served even colder than that.
One Cut of the Dead is a brilliant deconstruction not just of the moribund zombie genre, but of film form itself. There’s some extremely virtuoso filmmaking going on here, though it’s often carefully disguised. Like a Penn and Teller magic act, One Cut of the Dead first fools the audience and then reveals the secrets of the trick, only for the reveal to end up being a trick of its own. The final layer of deception is only made clear after everything is completely over. Don’t stop watching until the very end, and yes, that means that you need to sit through the entire closing credits.
All of that was probably a spoiler. Caveat emptor.
One Cut of the Dead breathes new life into a genre which desperately needed some, both literally and figuratively. While there have been quite a few noteworthy zombie flicks released so far in the 21st century, none of them have broken the mold to the extent that One Cut of the Dead does. Even Shaun of the Dead seems almost formulaic in comparison, and that’s really saying something, since Edgar Wright’s zombie opus is one of the most memorable of the bunch. Mad props to writer/director/editor Shin’ichiro Ueda and his talented cast and crew (plus a tip of the hat to Ueda’s barely-credited inspiration, Ryoichi Wada’s play Ghost in the Box). One Cut of the Dead is the rare film that should delight horror fans and film students in equal measure. It’s that inventive, and it’s that good.
Cinematographer Takeshi Sone captured One Cut of the Dead digitally using Sony HXR-NX100 and Sony a7R II cameras with Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 and Canon Cinema EF Lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate, framed at 1.78:1. (Presumably that was cropped down to 1.85:1 for theatrical release, but 1.78:1 would have been the full original image size, and that’s what is reproduced here.) One Cut of the Dead being One Cut of the Dead, providing too many specifics about its image quality would involve spoilers. Suffice it to say that everything looks exactly like it should, when it should. The actual quality does vary throughout the film, but there’s a good reason for that, and this transfer replicates that effect accurately. At its best, everything is sharp and crystal-clear, with no obvious artifacts of note. When things do look a bit rougher, it’s a deliberate effect, so just hang on and enjoy the ride. That makes it difficult to give the film a fair video grade, so don’t worry about the actual rating. Just know that all is well here for One Cut of the Dead.
Audio is offered in Japanese and English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. While they’re not indicated as such, both are matrixed surround mixes. Either way, the bulk of the sonic energy is devoted to the front channels, with limited reverberations included in the surround channels—although there are a few infrequent offscreen sound effects as well. The lively and energetic musical score provides most of the bass response. As with the video, this is exactly the right mix for the film, no more, no less. Regarding the English dubbed version: don’t, just don’t. All of the dialogue in the Japanese version of the film is production audio, with natural ambient tone surrounding it, so the studio-bound English dubbing sticks out like a sore thumb. As dubbed tracks go, it’s well below average, and average isn’t very good in the first place when it comes to dubbing.
RLJ Entertainment’s Blu-ray Steelbook release of One Cut of the Dead is a 2-disc set that includes a standard definition DVD copy of the film. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:
- Outtakes (4:37)
- Go-Pro Version of One Cut of the Dead (38:03)
- Photo Gallery (12 in all)
- Pom! Instructional Video (:59)
The Outtakes consist of extended and alternate takes from a few scenes. It’s worth a look, but there’s nothing particularly revelatory included here. The Go-Pro Version of One Cut of the Dead is the most interesting extra on the disc, as it’s essentially a behind-the-scenes look at how one particular sequence was filmed—it’s a reveal of the reveal, as it steps back from the stepping back. Spinning that broken record once again, to say more would be a spoiler. Fans of One Cut of the Dead will find it fascinating, as it’s yet more proof of the amazing work that was done by a talented group of filmmakers. The Pom! Instructional Video is just the full version of the self-defense video that’s glimpsed briefly during the film.
Missing from the Third Window Films Hollywood Edition Region-Free UK Blu-ray is One Cut of the Dead Spin-Off: In Hollywood, which was made for Japanese television, the Making of One Cut of the Dead documentary, the trailer, and the interview with Shin’ichiro Ueda. That version comes in an amaray case (although it does include a slipcover), so it’s a choice between the Steelbook packaging, or having a better set of extras. On the other hand, RLJE’s Steelbook seems to pop in and out of current availability on Amazon, while the Third Window Films version tends to be widely available despite its status as a limited edition. Regardless of which version that you choose—or which one that you have to settle for, as the case may be—One Cut of the Dead belongs in the collection of every serious horror fan, and damned near every single film fan as well.
- Stephen Bjork