Violence Voyager (2019)
Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
Bobby is an American kid living in Japan. School has just let out for a holiday, so he and his friend Akkun decide to journey over the mountain and visit a friend who transferred earlier in the year. As they search for a shortcut through the rugged terrain, they encounter Old Man Lucky Monkey, an elderly recluse that befriended Akkun years ago. He warns them that the mountain is treacherous and they should go back. Of course, these boys ignore him and stumble across what appears to be an abandoned amusement park called Violence Voyager. Ah, but it is still open, and they are welcomed by a strange balding man wearing an official park T-shirt. The boys go through an orientation that involves a fake story about an alien invasion they have to repel and are sent into the park armed with water pistols.
It doesn’t take long before they discover something much more insidious lies beneath this park. The tone of the movie goes from a weird, silly retro anime to bizarro grotesque incredibly fast. It’s absolutely delightful. Watching Violence Voyager feels like you’ve stumbled upon some grody VHS tape you weren’t supposed to watch. Ujicha uses actual liquids to represent the water from the guns, vomit, acid from the monster in the movie, and even pigeon milk. The character design is grotesque in so many fascinating ways. I was obsessed with Akkun’s face, which had what can only be described as a waffle iron pattern across his forehead. This is never commented on or explained during the movie, so I chalk it up to a little design quirk Ujicha likes?
Violence Voyager tosses many ideas at the audience but doesn’t do a great job developing them. The runtime is just over an hour, so the story begins to feel very rushed by the time we get to the midpoint. The time taken to develop the world and set up the scenario was a good idea. However, we don’t get room to breathe or really gain an understanding of what exactly is going on. There’s some rushed exposition that fills us in a bit, but I was certainly left with lots of questions at the end of the picture.
I wasn’t expecting meaningful science fiction explanations about what was happening; this isn’t that kind of picture. However, it would have been nice to get just a bit of an explanation of the whole process of what is happening under the park. At one point, a character who disappears from the narrative, for the most part, shows up near the end in control of a giant robot. So, um, why? Like what is happening?
The story is very much a bleak one. There isn’t going to be a traditional happy ending if you hadn’t realized that yet. Our protagonist undergoes a grotesque transformation. However, he exists in an anime-styled universe, so that doesn’t mean he will be impeded from living a full & healthy life. At one point, my wife referred to him as a “dollar store ninja turtle,” which isn’t a bad description of his final state at all. I watched this with the American voice dub, which added to the insanity of tones clashing. Pair that with the children’s pop-up book style that Gekimation brings to the project, and you have an animated movie that is unlike anything you have likely seen before. Violence Voyager isn’t perfect, but it is short and completely insane.