Takahide Hori’s Junk Head first played at the Fantasia International Film Festival back in 2017, with a much longer and more detailed cut. The stop-motion dark fantasy/adventure was adapted from his 2013 short of the same name and by all accounts, response to the film was very positive. Even Guillermo de Toro is quoted in the festival’s program entry for the film, praising it as “a one-man band work of deranged brilliance,” but to everyone’s surprise, the film disappeared shortly after its premiere. No screenings, no theatrical release, and no news of when Hori’s industrial wasteland fantasy would reappear. But after 5 long years, Junk Head is back!
Set in a dystopian future where skyscrapers are hundreds, maybe thousands of stories tall, humans have found a way to control their biological clocks. They are not immortal but the idea of dying from old age is a thing of the past. To the creatures inhabiting the lower levels, where no human has ever traveled, they are looked upon as gods but life in the upper levels is far from perfect. The flip side of this physiological breakthrough is that everyone has lost the ability to reproduce, dooming the entire race if they don’t one day find a cure for this life-altering sterilization. After the discovery of a strange creature in the lowest levels of this dystopian society, a volunteer is sent down to investigate and bring back the mysterious creature that holds the key to humanity’s survival. Along the way, he meets helpful guides, tired workers, and all manner of creepy-crawly monsters eager to have him for dinner.
I wasn’t lucky enough to see the film back in 2017 so I don’t have much but first impressions to share about Junk Head but I am eternally fascinated with stop-motion animation. Partly because it has one foot in the world of animation and another in the motion-picture arena, and that melding of the two mediums is undeniable in Hori’s camerawork. Because of the effort required to bring each setpiece to life, Junk Head‘s action sequences would be impressive even with a static shot but Hori’s camera whips around scenes like the “bullet time” photography of The Wachowski’s Matrix films. He also inserts several shots with movements captured live (rather than a sequence of still photographs) which creates a bit of an uncanny valley effect with these little malleable creatures.
Stop-motion is also a big standout for me because they are all distinctly unique labors of love. (It might also be because Tim Burton and Henry Sellick gave me a free hit when I was a child and I’ve been hopelessly addicted ever since but-) No one could possibly spend an entire week of shooting just to get a little ten-inch model to walk from one end of a room to the other if they didn’t believe in what they were doing. You see it in the behind-the-scenes clips of Paranormanand The Corpse Bride. The medium requires an incredible amount of time to produce and an unshakable desire to get it done. Heck, even Lee Hardcastle (whose work you can see all over Adult Swim) has been toiling away at his Spook Train horror-anthology year after year despite a disappointing Kickstarter campaign.
That degree of crazed dedication is practically a prerequisite for working in stop-motion animation and Takahide Hori is the exact right type of crazy to spearhead a project as sprawling and expansive as Junk Head. And almost entirely by himself! You’ll see his name printed beside nearly every single credit from voice acting to puppeteering to cinematography. You’ll even see him in a post-credit featurette (mandatory for all movies featuring stop-motion animation and killer pants) constructing the grey, manufactured world where Junk Headtales place. Every film is a passionate project to someone, but in stop-motion, you have to breathe as much life into mundane moments as you would into a monumental monologue in a high-stake Oscar Bait drama.
Junk Head is a stop-motion animator’s stop-motion animation. What it gives up in million-dollar polish, it gains in technical creativity and a well-crafted story. The plot is easy to follow and the characters aren’t much more than odd little shapes covered in rags and goggles, but there is an undeniable emotional connection built through simple expressions and limited dialogue. The protagonist of the story goes through several changes throughout the film, and his face is always covered by some sort of mask but we always understand exactly what he is thinking and exactly how he feels. That’s no small feat for even a human actor but Hori does the impossible over and over again with the briefest of gestures. Ironically tragic and darkly adorable, Junk Head is a marvel of indie movie-making from an artist with an apparelled dedication to bring his vision to life, literally one frame at a time.
Takahide Hori’s Junk Head is an official selection of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to follow all of our festival coverage, and be sure to let us know what your favorite stop-motion animation films are over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
Review: JUNK HEAD
Junk Head is a stop-motion animator's stop-motion animation. What it gives up in million-dollar polish, it gains in technical creativity and a well-crafted story. The plot is easy to follow and the characters aren't much more than odd little shapes covered in rags and goggles, but there is an undeniable emotional connection built through simple expressions and limited dialogue. The protagonist of the story goes through several changes throughout the film, and his face is always covered by some sort of mask but we always understand exactly what he is thinking and exactly how he feels. That's no small feat for even a human actor but Hori does the impossible over and over again with the briefest of gestures. Ironically tragic and darkly adorable, Junk Head is a marvel of indie movie-making from an artist with an apparelled dedication to bring his vision to life, literally one frame at a time.
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