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Japanese Sleeper Hit ‘One Cut of the Dead’ Heads for English Remake (EXCLUSIVE)

UPDATED:One Cut of the Dead,” a micro-budget horror film that last year defied the odds to become one of the biggest hits of the year in Japan, is headed for an English-language remake.

Patrick Cunningham, a Japan-based American producer whose credits include “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Starlet,” is behind the venture, along with business partners.

“For a remake, the Enbu main producer Koji Ichihashi, is cooperating with co-creator Ryoichi Wada and the ‘One Cut’ director, Shinichiro Ueda,” said Koji Ichihashi, president of acting school Enbu Seminar and the original film’s producer, in a written statement emailed to Variety. “Mr. Wada is a partner in a new production company with producer Patrick Cunningham, lawyer Ted Johnson and actor Takuro Kuraki. We (Enbu) are only working with this new company for the remake and there are no other authorized remakes.”

The original film, which depicts the zombie invasion of a low-budget movie shoot, had its debut at the Yubari festival in northern Japan in March of last year and played the following month at the Festival of Far East Film in Udine, Italy.

It received a nominal two-screen commercial release in Japan in June. But, buoyed by positive feedback, it scored more screens and played for several months. By the end of December, its cumulative gross had risen to $26.3 million – nearly 1,000 times its production budget of just $27,000.

“Most U.S. and Western audiences won’t get to see it. It has only a limited release outside Japan and is not being released in the U.S.,” said Cunningham. “That’s such a shame for a film this fun and original.”

Adam Torel, a U.K.- and Japan-based producer at Third Window, and sales agent of the original film, previously described Variety’s report of the planned remake as “fake news.” In postings on Twitter and Facebook, he explained that an English-language remake was however, extremely likely. Those messages have since been removed.

Cunningham says that his company plans an English-language remake that will shoot in the U.S. on a budget that he describes as “fairly small.”

The original film emerged from the Enbu Seminar acting school, which had no idea that it would have such a hit on its hands. The contrast between the box office success of “One Cut of the Dead” and its minuscule budget added to the social media buzz that sustained the film’s career. The ethics of making ultra-low budget films in wealthy Japan became a lively social media topic last year.

In a separate email to Variety, Ichihashi said that it was incorrect to report that the cast and crew of “One Cut” were unpaid. “The crew of ‘One Cut of the Dead,’ was paid a salary from the beginning. I received tuition (fees) from the cast of 12 people who participated in the workshop. For the rest of the cast, we paid a salary,” Ichihashi said. “After that, in line with the film’s (success), we paid all cast, directors and crew, additional rewards.”

Further adding to word-of-mouth was a suggestion of plagiarism that emerged in August. Director Shinichiro Ueda was accused of borrowing too much from a stage play, “Ghost in the Box,” which had been put on between 2011 and 2014 by theater director Ryoichi Wada.

The parties settled their differences and agreed to change the final credits of the film. The new credits now describe the film as “A joint original work by Ryoichi Wada and Shin-ichiro Ueda.” English-language credits for planning and development co-operation go to Shun Araki, and Yuta Otsubo of the Peace Theater Group. And the credits now acknowledge the film as “Inspired by: “Ghost in the Box!” (Ryoichi Wada / Peace Theater Group).”

“We agreed on all the credits for ‘One Cut of the Dead’ etc., and the problem disappeared,” Ichihashi said by email. Variety understands that there was also a financial settlement.

Cunningham says he was involved in resolving the dispute between the parties over the film’s origins. “Ueda-san and Wada-san were friends beforehand, had a misunderstanding, and are friends again now,” he said.

“The goal is for as many people as possible to see (the remake),” Cunningham said. He explained that could mean an indie-style theatrical trajectory or a straight-to-streaming strategy. “We will know more about the direction it will take once we have attached a writer and director.”

There has been industry talk of further local-language remakes of “Once Cut” in China and in Hong Kong. But Ichihashi says these are not authorized.

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