Shinichirou Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead has become the darling film of last year. Although initially released in November 2017 in Japan, the film’s festival run has seen it attain popularity the likes of which few independent movies have ever seen. Shot on a budget of less than $28,000, word-of-mouth helped it spread like wildfire and brought its theater gross to well over 1,000x that amount ($28.4 million), making it the 7th highest-grossing film in Japan of 2018.
To say that all of this success is well-deserved is an understatement. The movie really is a magical treat, ending up as one of my personal best films of 2018, amongst many other such lists. It’s a love letter to filmmaking, to horror, and to the human spirit, expertly blending cheesy horror with hysterical comedy and surprising amounts of heart. By all rights, it should be everywhere so that everyone can appreciate it.
However, the reality is that distribution is a difficult game for many filmmakers and sales agents. Foreign titles don’t necessarily do well outside of their native country unless they’re massive films and even then there is no guarantee for success. Positive feedback only goes so far, too. So when something like One Cut of the Dead comes along, it really is that one-in-a-million movie that has the chance to really make it.
But the film, and it’s distribution opportunities, suffered a massive blow last week when a pirated version of One Cut of the Dead was uploaded to Amazon Prime in the US and in the UK. To say that this had a devastating effect is an understatement.
“The UK theatrical release is just days away and it was hard enough to get cinemas to take an independent, Asian film, so potentially losing cinemagoers when it was hard enough getting a theatrical release could really…have an effect on future Asian, independent cinema in the UK,” says Adam Torel, owner of Third Window Films, the world sales agent for One Cut of the Dead.
Third Window Films is one of the premier distributors of Asian cinema throughout the UK, often working on films from directors such as Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, Takeshi Kitano, and more. While that may make it seem like Third Window is a large corporation, it’s actually a one-man operation.
“Being a very small company, I don’t have the power or money to take on big films, but as I work very close to the independent film circuit I can sniff out titles before others, which gives me an advantage. I took [One Cut of the Dead] on as a world sales agent in 2017, when nobody had heard of it, and it took lots and lots of hard work to spread the word and get it out worldwide. I’ve spent over a year initially preparing materials, booking it into festivals, generating word of mouth, handling sales, etc… But as many festivals don’t pay, I’ve done all of the work to increase the film’s value for a big North American sale,” explains Torel.
Proper version is out in UK cinemas jan 4 and dvd/blu Jan 28
But this shit may have caused american release to be stopped…— Third Window Films (@thirdwindow) December 31, 2018
The immense amount of time and work Torel put into the film to help it reach the status it has now may all be for naught, thanks to the bootleg spreading like wildfire.
“Amazon linked the bootleg version to the DVD/Blu-ray/TVOD Amazon sales page of the film, so many people may have cancelled their pre-orders and just gone with the Prime version for free. The Prime version was also available to download, and even with it now deleted, it is apparently still available to watch for all those who downloaded it.”
He continues, saying, “With advanced talks with many major companies, it…could be that thousands of people seeing the film for free could either force the sales to be lost or offers reduced in price. For somebody who works on commission and spent over a year working for a title, it’s quite a bitter pill to take.”
On top of it all, this situation happened during the holidays, which means everything had a personal effect on Torel as well as a business one. “This happened in between Christmas and New Years, so [it] totally ruined my supposed family time and doubled the stress. With everyone away from their workplaces, it made it even harder to find out what happened and to take it down,” Torel tells us.
How did this happen? How could a bootlegged version of a movie make it onto Amazon’s platform? It’s honestly far simpler than many would expect.
While Netflix uploads all of their content to their own library, Amazon Prime operates both like Netflix and YouTube, where creators can upload their own content with little oversight. This is how the bootlegged version was added to Amazon’s library. However, there’s nothing that helps explain why the person who uploaded it would do such a thing.
To absolve themselves from guilt in such situations, Amazon also instituted a system similar to YouTube’s Content ID, where the owners of original content can issue a claim for their copyrighted material. Still, that process takes time and it doesn’t always work in favor of the right party, as we constantly see on YouTube. In this case, the film was taken down but, as Torel explained above, the damage will have lasting effects. Furthermore, Amazon is being very quiet about the exact impact this leak had.
“Though in the end, all I want is to hear something from Amazon. I want to know how many people saw and downloaded it, and an explanation and apology,” Torel laments. “As a small company, lawsuits can be time consuming and expensive, but I really wonder what would have happened if this was, let’s say, the new Avengers film or an Academy Awards screener?”