Written by Patrick Hao
If filmmaking is a labor of love, then animation is the 12 Labors of Hercules. It’s a long, lugubrious, and isolating process. For director Takahide Hori, the stop motion animated film Junk Head is one such labor of love.
In a way, the story of the making of Junk Head is much more interesting than the actual film itself. In 2009. Hori, an interior decorator by trade, decided to convert his factory into a movie studio. Like the pioneers of cinema, Hori never intended to make a stop motion film. He discovered that the easiest way for him to make a movie was to simulate movement by taking photos and moving them like a flipbook. The original Junk Head I was finished in October 2013, a 30-minute short film released on YouTube. Encouraged by the positive reception, including from director Guillermo Del Toro, Hori decided to expand on his short film resulting, seven years later, in the 99-minute epic that is Junk Head.
Its incredible to see the results of this one-man production. The credits, which shows some time lapse footage of the over 140,000 photographs it took to make the film, just lists Hori’s name repeatedly. Junk Head is without a doubt the singular vision of one artist, which explains the oddness of the final project. The film has the visual panache of the Quay Brothers with the humor of an Aardman film.
The sci-fi epic takes place in a dystopian future in which humans have discovered immortality through genetic engineering, losing the ability to reproduce in the process. They also created clones to serve as a workforce these clones rebelled and descended into the catacombs of the earth, creating a subterranean society. To discover reproductivity, the above ground society sends down a volunteer to the subterranean world. In the process, the volunteer loses all memory and body. The subterranean race receives this new invader warmly, calling him God, and placing his head onto a body. From there, the film takes us on a journey through the monsters, robots, and world of the underground.
This is not the type of movie where the plot matters very much. It is all about characters and designs. The mole men are styled like steampunk mine workers. They speak in an indecipherable language – a mix of phlegm and gibberish. The monsters are these weird clay creatures that are reminiscent of H.R. Giger with the heads of the Alien form Alien, long bodies, and phallic tails.
To say that the Hori wears his influences on his sleeve is an understatement. Each set piece radiates love and passion for anime and movies. Little tributes to The Matrix, Brazil, Tetsuo: The Iron Man and many other pieces are evident throughout.
In order to reach the 99-minute mark, the Junk Head does tend to repeat itself. The film almost has a video game structure in which God finds himself in a new location and must escape the monster of that setting – rinse, repeat. But the visuals are so striking it is hard not to just be engaged with the mastery of the art. In a way the film may be better suited as an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art than it does for the movie theater.
But, in a film landscape in which movies feel more and more like it is being molded from a pre-formed template, we need more movies like Junk Head. Hori took his boundless creativity, passion, and love to create a singular piece that could have only come from him. The work is onscreen, and that should be celebrated.
Junk Head Trailer