Real flesh-eating creatures invade the set of a low-budget zombie movie in the one-take, no-cuts, elaborate opening sequence of Shinichiro Ueda’s superbly crafted “One Cut of the Dead,” which encompasses a third of this Japanese bloody marvel’s entire length. The roll of its primary credits only marks the onset of this ingeniously ornate horror-comedy — the funniest of its kind this year and in recent memory.
On that introductory layer of his meta concept, Ueda deploys an ensemble cast in which every member is astutely calibrated to generate an illusion of rawness that’s actually manufactured through choreography and detailed planning. Actors are tasked with playing actors who are playing actors in a live broadcast production of a movie within a movie. Such a nesting-doll extravaganza demands that performers shape-shift throughout depending on the required incarnation of their characters.
Orchestrating it all, in the fiction, is director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), a passionless pushover proud of his average aptitude. Ironically, when urgency coerces him to take the role of the auteur helming the fictitious shoot within, Higurashi reinvents himself as an artist obsessed with truthful emotion. That reignited flame reflects on his cinema-savvy daughter Mao (Mao). Their fractured bond underlines the laughter-heavy plot with splatters of lighthearted drama.
An awe-inspiring storytelling configuration, successful in great part due to Takeshi Sone’s camera work meticulously engineered for continuity and realism, lies embedded within the framework of Ueda’s virtually perfect comedic enterprise. A master class in endless narrative inventiveness and an ode to the resourceful and collaborative spirit of hands-on filmmaking, “One Cut of the Dead” amounts to an explosively hilarious rarity.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, downtown Los Angeles