FANTASIA FEST 2021: ‘Junk Head’ Is An Astonishing Stop-Motion Success

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Junk Head - But Why Tho

Is it possible to successfully combine sci-fi, comedy, action, adventure, and existentialism into one package? Sounds like a tall order, but after years of hard work, Takahide Hori managed to do it with the aid of stop-motion in his film Junk Head, a result of outstanding craftsmanship that could become an all-time animation classic.

This one-man project started as a short film titled Junk Head1 that took more than four years to complete. It was then expanded into a feature film completed in 2017 that is now getting a full theatrical re-edit. Throughout all these years, Hori did pretty much the entire film all by himself: he was in charge of direction, editing, lighting, cinematography, score composing, and character design.

Junk Head is set in an apocalyptic future where an epidemic rages and humanity has found the key to longevity at the cost of losing the ability to reproduce. Their only hope is to explore the mysterious underworld, home of Marigans, mutant clones that rebelled thousands of years ago and now seem to be fertile. A human called Parton is selected to travel to this mysterious world to recover genetic material and save humanity.

During his descent, Parton’s pod suffers heavy damage leaving him with memory loss and only his head intact. He’s soon found by three collectors who take him to a skillful doctor to get a new body assembled with pieces of junk. Thus, our protagonist starts a quest for survival in which he tries to figure out and fulfill his mission while dealing with the many dangerous creatures that await him in this unforgiving environment.

Every single corner of the world created by Hori is rich and fascinating. The designs of the Marigans can go from charming to disturbing; some monsters look right out of H. R. Giger’s mind, while others might remind you of a cross between an Ewok and a Minion. The cherry on top is that there’s no Japanese or English here, but an alien-like language that every creature uses. This is heaven for science fiction fans. And just like the characters, the script comfortably goes from a comedic moment to a ferocious chase, to a gory encounter.

Parton faces long and solitary walks through an alien maze filled with machinery, stairs, chasms, and bloody threats every step of the way. However, there’s empathy, kindness, and friendship in his journey too. Even when our hero has a robot body and loses the ability to speak, his good human features manage to shine through. He’s kicked, lied to, humiliated, and used as a slave, but as soon as he gets the chance, he fills his surroundings with kindness.

Besides the topic of humanity, the storytelling is mainly focused on exploring mortality. Parton’s body is destroyed several times and his life seems to be in constant peril, but encounters with friendly Marigans allow him to continue his mission. The despair, isolation, and uncertainty result in the realization of how unfulfilling immortality can be. Was it worth it for humanity? Was sacrificing reproduction for immortality a wise choice? 

The stop-motion animation is godlike. With simple movements and smart use of lighting, the existential scenes convey heaps of emotion. The action sequences are spectacles filled with kicks, blood, bullets, and explosions in which Hori uses slow motion and diverse camera angles to create exhilarating fight choreographies that easily put to shame any of the recent big-budget Hollywood films.

The only sins of this film are in its storytelling. The development of certain topics and scenes are interrupted, or even forgotten, and the backstory of a secondary character gets lost in the vastness of the mission at hand. This all comes to a head with a hasty ending. The third act features a heart-pumping action sequence and a very emotional moment, but just when you are in the peak of excitement, ready for the next phase of this adventure, the credits start rolling. Hori ends his story in a very abrupt way that doesn’t achieve its own potential. The director did such an exceptional job building his little post-apocalyptic universe, that you are left with a hunger for more and a slight disappointment at the lack of closure. The good thing is that he managed to create fertile ground for a sequel. 

Junk Head is an astonishing piece of cinema that can horrify you in one beat, and push your jaw to the floor in the next one. Its successful mix of genres is a byproduct of the passion displayed by a filmmaker in full control of his craft. A must-watch for animation and sci-fi lovers everywhere.

The new theatrical cut of Junk Head is screening On Demand at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2021.

Junk Head
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Junk Head is an astonishing piece of cinema that can horrify you in one beat, and push your jaw to the floor in the next one. Its successful mix of genres is a byproduct of the passion displayed by a filmmaker in full control of his craft. A must-watch for animation and sci-fi lovers everywhere.