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Violence Voyager
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by Jay Seaver

"Even by Japanese standards, this is way out there but strangely compelling."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: You can't exactly claim that "Violence Voyager" doesn't tell the audience what it's in for - "violence" is right there in the title, and it's not like the audience was going to go in expecting something straightforward in either story or medium from the maker of "The Burning Buddha Man". Still, it's a profoundly bizarre movie, the sort one can admire for being iconoclastic while still feeling sorry for people who go in unprepared.

It's a little off-kilter, storywise, from the start, introducing Bobby Pearson (voice of Aoi Yuki), a young American boy living in Japan, and his friend Akkun. Akkun has found a secret path through the woods where they can visit their friend Takaaki, who recently moved to another village. When they do follow it - despite warnings from Old Man Lucky-Monkey - they find a seemingly empty amusement park, "Violence Voyager", in the middle of nowhere, that offers kids the chance to play through a secret mission, blasting robots with squirt guns. But when they meet a girl, Tokiko, who claims to have been there for days and lost her boyfriend, thing seem a lot more sinister.

There's your standard "What the heck, Japan?" movie - bizarrely designed monsters, sudden tone shifts, kids casually put in the center of questionable situations - and then there's this thing. Director Ujicha works in the peculiar medium of "gekimation" - static paper cutouts mixed and manipulated in front of the camera, enhanced by the occasional bit of water, fire, or viscous liquid - with one of the more outright twisted horror stories at the festival. It's kind of odd by its nature, as one has to get used to mouths not moving and motion not aligning with either regular experience or typical animation. The detailed backgrounds and foreground characters are both drawn with enough shading to have a little three-dimensionality to them, but the way they're put together negates that. Over the course of an 80-minute movie, one gets used to it, but it's never not odd or obvious.

I suppose that this means the film has to be twisted as hell, because the lo-fi nature of the medium is going to get laughs unless that reaction is being forcibly suppressed, and Ujicha does that, leaving no doubt that as campy as the medium may be, he's not messing around. Still, this is a particularly nasty movie for something that starts out as a fun kids' adventure, jumping from children exploring a creepy amusement park to not just fairly bloody murder, but kids being stripped naked and dangled from the ceiling like meat, gory death, and the completely gratuitous implication that one non-villainous character is a pedophile. Do not bring kids to this. Ujicha is committed to following his horror story down the path that makes sense in its twisted universe, and he is not going to back off just because many most filmmakers would.

As much as its viciousness makes me squirm, I can't help but admire how the whole thing actually feels kind of disturbing rather than just gross. The movie is just horrific enough to feel like a waking nightmare, in part because it never tricks the brain into thinking it's real - the unavoidable notion that somebody clearly thought of this, wrote it down, and meticulously crafted it without pretending they were just pointing a camera and capturing what they saw makes it feel a bit more twisted. At times, it doesn't so much as feel like a horror movie itself, but the cursed thing people find <I>inside</I> a horror movies, or a monstrously modernized bit of nasty folklore, and there's no denying that it's effectively jaw-dropping.

It's genuinely creepy, and stronger filmmaking than "The Burning Buddha Man" to boot (the subtitles note a co-director, which I suspect helped with making it feel like a film as much a curiosity). It feels more like outsider art than much of what is labeled underground film, but is still fairly accessible for those who want bizarre, violent horror.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32397&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/28/18 02:55:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ujicha

Written by
  Ujicha

Cast
  Aoi Yuki
  Tomorowo Taguchi
  Saki Fujita
  Shigeo Takahashi
  Naoki Tanaka



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