TOKYO – The Japanese director who shot to stardom with a zombie movie featuring a delightfully long single shot has for his latest project turned to a video tool that’s become an everyday part of this pandemic era: the Zoom call.
Shinichiro Ueda's new 26-minute film was shot remotely — no one had to meet in person — and features footage shot by the actors themselves on their smartphones as well as recordings of meetings on the now ubiquitous video calling app Zoom.
A comedic horror film centered around teleworking, "One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote” was released earlier this year and shared for free on YouTube. It features the same characters from his award-winning 2017 film “One Cut of the Dead,” which has one shot that was 37-minutes long.
“All of Japan, the entire world, is feeling a bit stressed out over the fears about the coronavirus, and so I just had a simple wish to cheer people up a bit through light-hearted entertainment,” Ueda, 36, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that fittingly took place by Zoom.
“Watching entertainment has saved me, helped me cope often when I was depressed. I sensed a mission of sorts that I have to make this work now,” Ueda said.
The backdrop for “One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote” is the hopelessness artists, performers, musicians and filmmakers are feeling these days, when social distancing restrictions make it extremely hard to pursue their usual work and livelihood. It's something Ueda said he was feeling himself.
The plot centers around a cast and crew shooting a short movie about a mystery intruder who attacks by tickling victims so they can’t stop laughing.
What results is a defiantly hilarious concoction of unsteady selfies, obvious edits and formulaic storytelling.
Yet the work communicates a powerful, moving message about creative people coming together, despite obstacles, and their unwavering devotion to filmmaking.
One sequence and the credit roll feature some of the more than 300 people from around the world who sent in video clips of their smiling and dancing, responding to a social media request.
Ueda’s style incorporates slapstick comedy and focuses on visual, rather than explanatory verbal storytelling, an approach relatively rare in contemporary Japanese film.
“I grew up on Hollywood films. I’ve watched more Americans movies than Japanese movies. The works I watched were all made on a global standard, not something just understood in Japan. That helped me develop the knack for pursuing works enjoyed by everyone in the world, works that deal with universal themes and primordial desires,” he said.
Ueda, wearing a “Citizen Kane” T-shirt for the interview, said his influences include works by Billy Wilder, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and Sidney Lumet.
In addition to directing, Ueda also writes the screenplays for his films and edits them himself. He frequently works on a shoestring budget.
His earlier film “One Cut of the Dead” had a budget of 3 million yen ($28,000) but has won awards in the U.S., Europe and Japan. The Japanese title of that film can be translated as “Keep that camera rolling,” which is exactly what Ueda did for 37 minutes, or nearly half of the film.
Cannes award-winner Koji Fukada praised that earlier work as “a film that passes by in a flash of mesmerized joy over pieces of a puzzle that fit utterly perfectly.” Variety said the film “captures all the craziness and exhilaration of movie-making on a minuscule budget.”
Ueda said he’s pretty sure a long uncut sequence will be a staple of his filmmaking.
“All the techniques, the filming, lighting, recording must continue without stopping. The actors must keep acting without stopping. What’s being demanded is enormous. But that difficulty is what makes it fantastic. In a sense, everyone has to come together, to get that one shot,” he said.
“All the wonders, meaning and legacy of filmmaking are packed in that single take.”
Ueda has been making films since he was a teen running around with a hand-held video camera. He said he's found the key to success is to just keep making films. Lots of them.
“It’s only after 200 or 300 bad films you will have that one great film,” he said.
“I believe that what counts, beyond anything else, is that you just keep making films. Just keep making mistakes.”
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama