Home » Junk Head Is A Stunning Piece Of Stop Motion Animation, And A Sure Cult Classic [Fantasia 2021 Review]

Junk Head Is A Stunning Piece Of Stop Motion Animation, And A Sure Cult Classic [Fantasia 2021 Review]

Junk Head Fantasia Fest 2021 Movie Review

Over 7 years in the making, Takahide Hori’s stop motion epic Junk Head has had a long journey to this year’s Fantasia Fest. Initially a well received 2013 short, the feature length cut was a hit at Fantasia 2017 but rights holder snafus prevented the film from receiving any wider distribution outside of the festival circuit. Now in a tighter, slightly shorter reedit, Junk Head has emerged with another chance at finding an audience for its startlingly well realized universe.

In an unspecified far future, humans have used gene manipulation to achieve transhumanist near immortality, at the cost of no longer being able to reproduce. These enhanced humans built a thriving society above ground, supported by a subterranean workforce of clones banished below the surface. Several millennia later, the clones (now referring to themselves as Marigans) have revolted, acting in service to themselves rather than remain slaves to the human population. A mysterious virus is decimating the people above ground, forcing researchers to journey to the Marigan underworld, in search of the reproductive technology to save humanity from extinction.

A former tutor volunteers for the underground expedition, only to be almost immediately shot down by the protectors of the lower levels. His cybernetic head is discovered by  a trio deceptively adorable, hazmat suited hunters, who bring their find to a mad scientist style doctor. The doctor recognizes his subordinates’ find as a human, managing to connect the head’s consciousness with a scrap parts robotic body. The swap is a success, although he seems to be missing much more than flashes of his previous memories of life above ground. This is the birth of our protagonist, alternately referred to as Junk Head, Junkers, and God. Humans were technically the creators of Marigans, so the traveler is considered by some to be a deity from the old days, even if his general tendency toward confused haplessness doesn’t necessarily bear out that honorific. The confusion caused by this lofty perception versus his rather pedestrian actions is one of the movie’s best running gags.

Having established that basic framework, Junk Head puts a pause on the more linear narrative to do some gorgeously organic world building. Junkers doesn’t remember much of his past, and has no intel regarding his current surroundings, so we as an audience join him on a post dystopian travelogue of the various levels of the underworld, and the creatures that live within them. The surface hunters are cutely rotund in a way that wouldn’t be out of place in a big budget animated family adventure, but the beasts that stalk the endless dusty hallways and rusted scrap heaps are gory terrors that combine the spiny angularity of H.R. Giger designs with the odd, fleshy abominations that dot Hieronymus Bosch’s painted depictions of Hell. A village of miners toil at the whim of their imposing Amazonian wives, and adorable humanoid orphans are protected by Cenobite style monsters, all gangling limbs and sharp teeth.

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Perhaps this isn’t the most dynamic or linear choice in terms of plot momentum, but the incredibly intricate set and creature design keep things from feeling too stagnant, as there is literally something new lurking around every corner, be it comedic or nightmarish. Each still is a masterpiece of complex visual details, everything on screen carefully curated. Junk Head’s evolution as a character is reflected in his various rebuilds. In his initial vaguely humanoid incarnation, he has a voice, but no memories. When later reconstructed as a more retrofuturist block style robot (after one of his many destructive near misses), he has no voice but reconnects with a more organically human empathy. In his android misadventures with danger and death, Junkers learns more about the condition of being alive than he had in his countless human years above the surface.

This is not to say Junk Head is unduly dour or self serious in its existentialist themes. There’s wry comedy sprinkled everywhere amongst this cyberpunk rot, be it the obvious reverence some of the Marigans have for their newly discovered “God”, or a crisis narrowly averted by Junkers having the simple idea of fetching a worker a chair. All of this mixing of aesthetics, tones and genres would usually be a bit too busy, but as Junk Head is Takahide Hori’s insanely laborious one man show, every detail was conceptualized as part of his larger vision of what this world was supposed to be. The movie is completely unafraid of committing to its own odd muse, and reads as an incredibly immersive complete thought.

This sort of technical achievement in stop motion would be impressive coming from a much larger animation studio, let alone a single extremely devoted self-taught man who is the only name on the majority of the listed credits. The only real flaw to be had is that perhaps the main narrative is a bit overly neglected for exploration, only being put back into the forefront in the film’s final half hour. That said, there is a late period battle that has some of the best editing and character motion in the entire movie, with impressive acrobatics and weapons cut together in a way that some of the live action directors working today could take some lessons from. Hori clearly sees this universe as an ongoing narrative, and perhaps the film ends too abruptly, at what feels like it should be the start point of a traditional third act. However, the fact that this fade to black feels like a bit of a shock to the system is a testament to the strangely transfixing nature of everything that proceeded it.

Despite its leisurely approach to scripting, Junk Head is an insanely accomplished, singular labor of love that is all but certain to be a cult classic should this version of the film be given a chance at wider release. Creepy and cute, dystopian and hopeful, sweet and strange…..the first thought that went through my head as the credits rolled was that I was already all in on any adventures Hori has planned for a sequel. Junk Head‘s title character may be made of trash, but Takahide Hori’s achievement here is a treasure that is not to be missed.


Director: Takahide Hori
Writer: Takahide Hori
Stars: Takahide Hori (voice)
Release date: August 5th 2021 (Fantasia Film Festival)
Studio/Production Company: Yamiken
Country: Japan
Run Time: 101 minutes

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