Junk Head Review (Fantastic Fest): It’s a Two-Hour Long Tool Video; How Awesome Is That?!

Critical View

Starring Takahide Hori

Directed by Takahide Hori

For the majority of my posts, I like to put the role/s of a crewmember before their name. For example, if I were to write about Alien: Covenant, I’ll say “From director Ridley Scott…” I bring this up because when it comes to Junk Head, the Japanese dystopian stop-motion animated feature, creator Takahide Hori is responsible for damn near everything. And when I say everything, I mean it. From the lighting to voicework, set decoration and construction to editing, sound editing, composing, animating, etc. When the credits rolled for Junk Head, my mouth dropped open more and more with each time I saw his name. It’s nothing short of astounding just how much work he put into this film, a passion project that is the result of eight years of dedication, perseverance, and incredible imagination.

In the distant future, humankind has found a way to make itself immortal but it comes at the cost of sacrificing its ability to reproduce. In order to maintain a worthwhile workforce, clones are created and used to do the dirty work. As humans sought to build themselves higher and higher in the sky, the clones dug themselves deeper into our own Earth, separating them not only by class but by distance. And then they rebelled.

After 1,200 years, humanity is dwindling and the only hope they have to come back from the brink of extinction is to acquire and research DNA from the very same clones that have been pushed to subterranean depths. One human, who is a hybrid of flesh and robotic enhancements and is later dubbed “God”, is sent into the darkness to find such a clone only to realize that the world below, having been cut off for so long, has created its own society that is as dangerous as it is fascinating.

For those who have seen Hori’s 2013 short of the same name, you’ll have actually already seen the first 25% of this feature-length movie. Those 30 minutes are used as the opening for the rest of the film, which follows the robotic “God” through his journey of trying to find Toro to get a sample of his DNA. It’s a journey that takes viewers through claustrophobic and labyrinthine hallways, industrial villages, cavernous trenches, and so much more.

What makes this film so admirable is the absolutely astonishing levels of detail put into every single frame. There wasn’t a moment of Junk Head where I wasn’t gleefully taking in the richness and complexity of the visuals. As the headline suggests, if you’re a fan of Tool’s “Prison Sex” video, then you’re going to fall madly in love with Junk Head and everything it has to offer.

It must be noted that the film, which clearly takes inspiration from the Alien films (especially Alien 3), the works of Jan Švankmajer, Tool, and similar projects, isn’t just a dark and grim vision of the future. For all its horror and violence, Junk Head is also quite charming and, at times, deceptively funny. Great care was put into making sure each of the characters have their own mannerisms, looks, and personalities. There is also a wide variety to the denizens of Earth’s new subterranean world. A new ecosystem thrives beneath the very feet of humanity and “God” moves throughout with not only a kind heart but a genuine curiosity and open-mindedness that is positively endearing.

All this praise for Junk Head must be tempered a bit with some observations on what it could’ve done better. Using a video game analogy, the story is often put to the side in favor of side quests, so much so that there were times when I forgot that “God” was an interloper on a mission to help save humanity. While I recognize that events in the first few minutes of the film led to an amnesiac state, the constant inability of this character to proceed on its own path became somewhat frustrating. “God” felt almost always at the whim of those around, who barked orders and conducted experiments with nary a second thought.

Furthermore, the film ends quite abruptly without some sort of satisfying conclusion. In fact, it’s clearly done this way to encourage interest in a sequel, something that hasn’t been confirmed. As a result, there is a fear that we’ll never see the journey of “God” come to an end, nor will we ever know if humanity finds a means of salvation.

Lastly, the soundtrack isn’t bad but it becomes quite repetitive. Clearly influenced by the far more industrial aspects of Nine Inch Nails with dashes of Merzbow, it’s electronica that feels rusted, decayed, but still alive, like some giant wheezing beast that refuses to shut down.

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