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JUNK HEAD is a Fun Trip Through a Stop-Motion Wasteland (Fantasia Review)

You’re going to notice Hori Takahide’s name show up a lot in the credits for Junk Head.

Director, producer, screenplay, voices, cinematographer, camera op, sculpting, puppets, lighting, animation…there’s probably no credit category on this film that Hori’s name doesn’t appear. “Labor of love” doesn’t quite cover it. The filmmaker spent four years alone creating the 30-minute short film that would eventually grow into the weird, whimsical, slightly depressing feature that will hopefully find its audience.

Junk Head takes place far, far into the future. It’s been 1,200 years since the humans and clones went to war, and now one human has been sent from his home near the top of a vast industrial structure into the lower, clone-controlled portions to retrieve some important DNA. Unfortunately, he’s blown out of the sky almost immediately, and his head gets placed in a swell new junk chassis.

But honestly, you don’t really come to Junk Head for the plot. It’s loose and fun and episodic, like a Harold Lloyd silent film filtered through the grunge of ’90s indie animation. The kind of post-apocalyptic sci-fi film that sends its hero on a grocery run to get mushrooms, introduces a mushroom-hungry con man to steal his stuff, and then introduces a thousand-toothed monster to eat that con artist. It’s weird, but it invites you to roll with it because it’s funny.

Also, the stop-motion animation is an excellent mix wondrous dark fantasy and clunky cute characters. The clones feel like the Minions after living in a rusty wasteland for a thousand years, and the movie itself looks like the living furniture from Beetlejuice got to make a project for LAIKA. Burton’s influence is all over this, to the point that the soldier in the opening gag look like the tiny mummy from Nightmare Before Christmas. This is also a universe with body parts harvested for food and aggressive scorpion/worm beasts of skin and bone terrorizing the honest workers.

Although the stop-motion toys around with its figures as dolls–shuffling along, arms hinging, tiny cloth garments folding with each movement–Hori also plays around with the camera work to create thrilling chase scenes and in-psyche freak outs alongside shots that let us hang out with his kooky figures.

Each mini-adventure is fun to watch. They generally find a punch line in the muck and grime of the wastes, proving that life goes on even if you’re merely scrounging in the metal scrap pile for your next meal. All of it weaves together once a crew who thinks our hero is a God meets the crew that thinks he’s a moronic version of WALL-E, but Junk Head has the same problem almost every episode film does: the ending isn’t big and satisfying. It happens, like everything else has happened, and it brings the adventure to a close. No more, no less. It doesn’t have the problem that fellow short-film-t0-feature, stop-motion dark adventure 9 does in stretching itself too thin, but it also doesn’t benefit from having a larger narrative purpose for our hero to fulfill.

Still, it’s a fantastic world to explore, and the talent that went into making it is enormous. The fact that one man did everything from costuming to editing to the music (with a small, supportive crew) is insane, especially because he churned out something that is on par with some of the best animation studios even if its tone and flavor are more oddball than average.

That he sneaked in some questions about the meaning of existence is just a moldy cherry on top.

4 out of 5 chest-teeth burritos

Images: Hori Takahide

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