By: C. Rachel Katz
Directed by Takahide Hori
Junk Head closed out the 2018 What The Film Festival in Toronto, a film fest dedicated to screening outsider cinema. In truth, Junk Head was going to be programmed at the Toronto International Film Festival, but TIFF was scooped by the Fantasia film festival in Montreal. Festival programmer Peter Kuplowsky held on to Junk Head, knowing the film would find an audience at WTF.
When creator Takahide Hori first conceived of Junk Head, he wasn’t sure which medium to use to communicate his vision. He settled on stop-motion animation without knowing the first thing about it. Eight years later, the nearly two-hour long film is a remarkable accomplishment in visual storytelling. At times breathtaking and heartbreaking, the film is set in a vast subterranean world in which an explorer seeks out an ancient mutated human clone to harvest its DNA. If there was ever a movie that’s more about the journey than the destination, this is it, as the explorer (named Junkers partway through the movie) is repeatedly broken apart and re-assembled, assisted and taken advantage of, and literally falling into and out of people’s lives.
As Junkers explores the seemingly endless network of corridors that make up the world, he encounters friends and enemies. Some see him as a god, others as prey. At one point Junkers himself loses track of who he is, and the film is sometimes more interested in exploring the world than telling his story. But the movie does catch up with itself, and a happy reunion partway through helps move the story forward. Somewhat problematic is how the story ends, which is to say it doesn’t. The film is over, but Junkers still has a ways to go.
Hori’s ability to create memorable and lovable characters is certainly worth writing about, but his creative vision is really what drives the film. The endless concrete corridors of the underground world lead to bottomless chasms. Monsters roam the halls and live in holes in the walls. And a large industrial facility is, unbeknownst to the workers, part of a giant machine which is minded by a tender who lives many levels below. The whole world is vaguely reminiscent of the lair of the Troglodistes from Delicatessen, and although it’s underground, it’s never claustrophobic. In fact, the world of the film, as experienced through Junkers, sometimes feels too big.
Made by a Japanese filmmaker, the film is subtitled but not because the movie is in Japanese. Rather, the characters speak their own language, an unintelligible gibberish. Since none of the characters are human, with the exception of Junkers himself (who is more recognizably Toclafane than human), why would we expect them to speak a human language? It’s a clever way to get around a presumed language barrier while at the same time making the world of the film that much more believable. Set in the far- flung future, Junkers and his contemporaries have developed a new and different language. The only throwback to a familiar time and place can be heard in some of the names.
That’s not to suggest Junk Head is alienating. Quite the opposite. The film’s characters are funny and lovable, and it’s upsetting when they’re sad or hurt. And that’s coming from someone who has a problem with anthropomorphized robots. Unfortunately, the movie’s unlikely to get any kind of release. Presently only festival audiences are able to get lost in Hori’s amazing, terrifying, wonderful world.
Rachel’s Grade: A