Japanese artistUjicha has been garnering a cult following, and even before watching this movie, I was aware of the name through buzz coming from the film fests. However, I had remained unconvinced of the unconventional approach to animation, with the use of paper cutouts to tell story. While still frames and trailers reflected a unique talent, it was hard to say how the experience would pan out over a feature length film. Thanks to Third Windows Films new release collecting the works of Ujicha, I was able to finally experienceViolence Voyager for myself.

WHAT IS IT?

“Bobby and his friend Akkun set out for the mountains to build a secret hideout. On their way, they stumble upon a mysterious amusement park called Violence Voyager. It doesn’t take long for things to get weird as the boys discover a group of scared children who can’t seem to escape and soon find themselves under attack by robot-like humanoids.” (Official Synopsis)

WHAT DID I LIKE ABOUT THE FILM?

The film plays out like a children’s dark fantasy, and if not for the upsetting nature of visuals, this could easily work as a cautionary tale for younger audiences. This is reflected in the kids having a strong reserve and determination that blurs reality with how they interact with those around them; animals areanthropomorphized,they openly accept the challenges and their innocence leads them to trust those they shouldn’t. In this regard, the film creates a nice nostalgic vibe that appeals to an era where cautionary tales where used to frighten kids, both in film and literature. A golden era of media for many that would go on to define interests in horror as adults.

While the story is great, the animation style is a whole other beast. The amount of care put into every backdrop and action sequence reflects a meticulous hand guiding the production. Consequently, the film flows so well that the idea of these being still images can fade within certain sequences. The amount of minor detail in the backdrops, and the use of layering to create texture, is exceptionally well executed.

This plays into one of my favorite aspects of Violence Voyager, in its ability to capture body horror with shock value on par with live action cinema. This seems somewhat inherent trait in ‘geki-mation’ which imbues the human figures with a degree of realism in tones and and textures (wrinkle and blemishes). Additionally, the use of liquid to simulate blood, vomit and errrr… ‘other functions’ will appeal to those who love their horror squeamish.

Ultimately, the style and narrative captures realism to ensure the transition into madness is still grounded in a believability. The work is not just absurdist for the sake of confusing, Ujicha’s work as storyteller should not be understated.

Finally, the sound design in the film is impeccable with a great range of effects and dialogue that are boisterous, or reserved, when need be.

WHAT DIDN’T I LIKE ABOUT THE FILM?

What really stops the film from being ‘perfect’ is inherent in the process itself. As strong as the animation and story may be, the approach will always give a degree of emotional disconnect. The very outlandish nature of the whole project won’t allow audiences to connect on a deep emotional level. Thus, this is the only reason I can’t give it a perfect score because to me it is not that kind of experience that can be a ‘perfect film’.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I found myself really enamoured to the works of Ujicha. Speaking to my love of Japanese underground art, the work seems to draw inspiration from creators who dwell in the uncomfortable space of horror subjected to children, such as Kazuo Umezu and Hideshi Hino. Additionally, the work compliments the bygone era of dark fantasy here in the West which terrorized children with films like Never Ending Story and Labyrinth. For me, it hit all the right spots with exploring things I love, both past and present. The entire time, I felt a giddy excitement and a desire to cheer on Bobby despite the traumatizing horrors that happen to his mind and body. Normally, I would wish a quick death to avoid the PTSD alone!

There are also many memorable sequences where narrative and style blend together so smoothly. Often this is punctuated by a surprising effect, such as smearing liquids on top of the cutouts or having green bile pushed through the back to stimulate vomit. There is even an explosion that proves Ujicha’s ability to make his craft an exciting spectacle. I adored every creative choice as I squirmed in my seat or cheered on the plight of Bobby.

Fans of horror, animation, experimental cinema and everything in-between will find a lot to love inViolence Voyageur.

 

“Experience the madness of VIOLENCE VOYAGER as part of the ‘Weird and Wonderful World of Ujicha’ Blu-ray boxset out Jan 25!!!”

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