Nearly a decade ago, within the barren walls of Concordia University, I was first introduced to the wickedly bizarre and demented mind of Takahide Hori. Not to be confused with the Fantasia Film Festival — the other notable genre festival which also hosts its annual celebrations at the renowned university — the Montreal Stop Motion Festival was where I initially caught a glimpse at Hori's Junk Head 1; a 30 minute short film which currently opens the present-theatrical cut of Junk Head. It was 2014, and I was quite young at the time. The gruesome and occasionally spine chilling depiction of a post-apocalyptic subterranean dystopia was perhaps a little too intense for my feeble tween mind. There's only so much a young child can endure; with the occasional bits of stop-frame robotic decapitation and bloody impalement included.
Nearly seven years later, now at Fantasia this time around, Hori's supposed complete vision of his Junk Head saga is now on full display at this year's historic 25th edition. A theatrical recut of his 2017 festival feature, the latest rendition of Junk Head is a pure amalgamation of seven committed years dedicated towards determined stop motion craft; all lead by one headstrong man with a limited bare-bones understanding of filmmaking and animation artistry. What could have easily led to imminent disaster, instead resulted in a passion project of pure delirious steampunk lunacy; an occasionally messy and off-tempo paced sci-fi horror with an endearing amount of dedication at its core.
With Lovecraft-inspired creature designs forming the majority of the cast of eccentric characters, Junk Head can be most adequately described as a barely cohesive work of synchronous hand-crafted artistry and poorly-composed chroma-keyed VFX work. You win some and you lose some on occasion; especially in the face of familiar tropes and empty emotional stakes. Though what elevates the plodding material is Hori's direction and overarching commitment to his cheap visual flare. Junk Head is an undeniably flawed film, though that's precisely the appeal. It's a one-man show hell-bent on remodelling its storytelling and visuals to meet the demands of Hori's own unhinged stop-motion wasteland — in the face of low-budgets and a lack of prior experience with the animation craft.
Just like the film's main protagonist, Hori's vision is far from complete. The body and core narrative will continuously be re-adapted, remodeled, and recycled — as long as Hori pursues for absolution in his soot-scrapped world of cyborgs and mutated monsters. But isn't that precisely the point of art to begin with? There's always more room for improvement, and the goal of “perfection” is less of an obstacle and more of a reflection point for filmmakers to heal and advance as both better people and artists. If that's the case with Takahide Hori and his Junk Head legacy, let us once again ring the film-festival bell in a few years for another round stop-motion madness. After all, a sequel almost feels imminent at this point.
Junk Head screened at this year's Fantasia Film Festival, as part of the Axis section. The film is currently seeking international distribution