DIRECTED BY: Ujicha
FEATURING: Voices of Saki Fujita, Shigeo Takahashi, Naoki Tanaka, Naoki, Aoi Yûki
PLOT: Two young friends investigate a mysterious adventure park only to find that the friendly owner wants them for some particularly icky science.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The cartoon style alone, though not new, is singularly discombobulating. Unlike more typical examples (whether drawn or computer generated), the whole movie’s “animation” is more akin to a picture book with pop-ups and pull-tabs, with occasional doses of squirted liquids and couple of fiery scenes. Then there’s the story, pulled out from some terrible organic-horror closet, in which the young “park” visitors face violence and mutations that were made somehow more distressing by the color picture cardboard cut-outs that they’re made up of.
COMMENTS: My right-hand neighbor was at a loss for words after the screening; my left-hand neighbor immediately wanted to confirm just what it was he had seen. Me, I spent the better part of Violence Voyager with what might have appeared to be a quirky-quizzical expression. Ujicha’s “cartoon” is something that, somewhere inside my mind, I enjoyed, while at the same time leaving me at a total loss as to whom I might possibly recommend it. Before the screening I had had the forethought to write the review out-line. Now, stuck with the Comments to flesh out, I shall try to muddle on.
Bobby and Akkun are school chums who have a penchant for adventuring in the woods and mountains near their small Japanese village. Bobby, whose father is American, is out-going, eager to help, and always curious; Akkun is a local lad who might otherwise be a loner, and is quite loyal to Bobby. When the two come across a theme park—the titular “Violence Voyager”—Bobby is keen and Akkun is apprehensive. They are given an orientation video and suit up for what is pitched as a harmless adventure. But some way into their escapade, they encounter an unconscious girl, who upon awakening tells them she’s been stuck in the park for days. Further exploration leads them to a “Robot Graveyard” and other children. Eventually, a bird-beaked cyborg (?) creature subdues them and they are dragged to a subterranean lab.
It took some getting used to, but eventually the moving cardboard pseudo-animation seemed somehow real. It’s akin to how an imaginative child looking at story-book pictures might see them move. So there’s this simplicity and innocence established at the beginning, but then things start going Horribly Wrong. Disintegrating paper kids, icky ooze guns, and perhaps the most disgusting “mother” character I’ve ever seen utterly warp the naïve sentiments embodied in the visual style. Further hitting the viewer upside the head is the never-say-die chirpiness of Bobby, who is unflinching when faced with the array of mad scientist evil, robot-boy creepiness, and, again, whatever the heck that “mother” thing is supposed to be. As a bonus, the narrator intones at the end that Bobby’s struggles are just beginning, before assuring him, “Be strong, Bobby! You can do it, Bobby!”
Then the credits began to roll and I took at peek at my neighbors. Ultimately, the question has to be asked, did this work as a movie? Somehow, it did. However, the follow-up question is a tougher one: is this a movie that deserves to be seen? For that, I’m at a loss. Obviously I’ve seen it, others at Fantasia have. There was even laughter at the numerous, strangely comical bits. And it’s apparent a lot of work, thought, and artistry went into it. I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t think of anyone that I might recommend Violence Voyager to; there is one fellow, but he’s an odd one. So to anyone who feels that she or he might be an odd one, I dedicate this review and say: “Go ahead. Give it a look. (I practically dare you.)”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…one hell of a trip into the mind of a madman… there is never a stretch of more than a few minutes where the audience isn’t confronted by something wholly original that they’ve never seen before.”–J Hurtado, Screen Anarchy