Junk Head (2017)
Directed by: Takahide Hori
Written by: Takahide Hori
Review: This is a dystopian stop-motion animated film from Japan. There is a short by the same name that was finished in 2013 and took the creator 4 years to make in his spare time. I haven’t watched the short but I believe this is a full length extended version of it. Humans have achieved longevity at the price of losing their ability to reproduce. Clones were created to solve this problem but they rebelled and now live in the depths of what appears to be an underground industrial facility while the humans live above. A human decides to travel to the lower levels for reasons that are revealed later in the movie. The human (whose name we don’t know) actually loses his memory upon arriving in the lower levels and is found by a resident who reassembles him with “junk” robotic parts. The characters speak in an imaginary language that is subtitled in the movie.
After the initial rush of monster encounters and chases in the beginning, the movie drags considerably when the human is tasked to get some type of food, which requires a lot of walking (there are apparently no elevators or any form of transport in this ridiculously large multi-level, underground network of corridors). He does meet a few other residents of the underground but there isn’t much character development or story progress. It only picks up the pace when the human finally gets his full memory back and recalls his mission at about 3/4 of the way into the movie.
The most impressive aspect of this movie is the animation, particularly the action sequences of which there are quite a few. They are done quite fluidly and are very dynamic. Camera work is also excellent. Monsters contort a lot and strike fast in believable ways. Another great sequence that occurs near the beginning is what looks like a mutant tree transforming. The fact that this is stop-motion makes it all the more impressive. The final fight with the most grotesque of grotesque monsters is absolutely worth seeing. Music and sound are also well done, making the action even more intense.
Your mileage may vary in regards to how intriguing you find this world. I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers just find it plain boring while others are totally immersed. I’m somewhere in the middle on this. Most of the movie takes place in a lot of boring, narrow concrete corridors, which is great for the chase scenes but not very interesting to look at. The set design is technically impressive but in the end the few areas we do see look mostly like an ordinary industrial plant. On the other hand, the monsters and characters are more visually creative. The overall art style of the environments and characters are consistent in theme and tone.
The movie is overlong at almost two hours but it has some humorous moments (a lot of which involve the three chubby monster hunter characters). Overall it does succeed at creating a mysterious mood. Despite some familiar elements I was still somehow intrigued about how the world came to be. The artistic design overall might not wow me and the story may be lacking a bit but I do respect the huge amount of work that must have gone into it. I look forward to future work from this team. The next screening is July 24.
Seen on a screener at Fantasia film festival.