New York Asian Film Festival ‣ ジャンク・ヘッド
The 20th Anniversary New York Asian Film Festival takes place August 6th through August 22nd both with both virtual and in-person screenings. Go to nyaff.org for more details.
Someone give Takahide Mori the money to do whatever the hell he wants for the rest of his life.
As a lover of stop motion animation, I was already predisposed to enjoy a wholly original project like Junk Head, originally released in 2017 and making its stateside debut. But pretty much from frame one I was blown away by just how much skill, imagination, and cleverness Mori managed to pack into a perfectly balanced 100 minutes.
And make no mistake, Mori is the entire show here: not only did he write and direct, he voices almost every character (who almost all speak a subtitled, made up gibberish language, which some might consider cheating). To say nothing of handling both the character and set design, the cinematography, the editing, the music… there’s almost no aspect of production he didn’t have a hand in, and it shows… this is a singular vision if ever there was one.
And a fairly accessible one, if you don’t mind a little body horror.
Opening with the rare non-annoying credit crawl, our story takes place in a world where humanity has evolved into something very different than we are in the 21st century. They live above ground while mutated creatures known as Marigans live in the underground.
Through a decidedly convoluted series of events, a human on a mission falls into the underground and is rebuilt as an android that will eventually come to be known as Junker. But only after he’s mistaken for God.
As you do.
Not that Mori seems particularly interested in telling a story; he’s far more interested in just noodling around in the contours of the bizarre new world he’s invented and let his gloriously odd imagination run free. It’s an episodic film, with only the barest of thru-lines, but the world is so visually interesting and fun to explore that it barely even matters.
The world of the underground is an endless abyss of long gray hallways, makeshift factories and piles of detritus that resemble a post hurricane swap meet. But despite the drab, colorless surroundings and the ever present fleshy monsters (the creature design in this movie is top notch), there’s a sense of place and community and a real lived in feeling that’s equal parts inviting and strange… a surprisingly large chunk of the movie is dedicated to Junker going to the store to buy food for a fancy meal his engineer bosses plan after their wives go on a girls trip. Of course, this movie being what it is, the fancy mean consists of phallic “mashrooms” that are sliced off of writhing, malformed torsos… but who am I kidding? I tried worse looking meals.
Honestly, it’s hard to even want to review the movie; one is tempted to just put up a bunch of stills and let them speak for themselves. But that would be a discredit to the script, which is funny and eerie and perfectly paced; it never lingers too long in one spot or situation and never runs out of new ideas, pretty much up until the credits start to roll.
As a protagonist, Junker gets the job done as our way into this new world. We never get too invested in the particulars of his mission, but he’s cool looking and genial enough to follow around. And he’s surrounded by a delightfully odd supporting cast, none more lovable than the trio of black clad, gas masked scavengers that first stumble upon Junker when he lands in the underground. Their interplay is unfailingly hilarious, and their ultimate role in the third act made me grin from ear to ear.
Not everyone is going to love Junk Head… it gets rather gruesome at times and the squishiness of some of the design choices might be a turn-off for some. But this is absolutely a movie that a certain breed of fan is going to adopt. It’s cult cinema in the making, and I’m dying to know what Takahide Mori gets up to next.