Violence Voyager (Japan, 2018) [JAPAN CUTS 2018]
There is no escaping the visual charm of Ujicha’s conceptually playful science fiction film Violence Voyager. While being a follow up to a film with similar style, the elusiveness of availability of the director’s first feature, The Burning Buddha Man (2013), makes Violence Voyager still quite a novel treat. While the style isn’t anything new, Ujicha’s “gekimation” being a variety of cut-out animation (without the animation part), it is the immersion and integration of the style to the narrative which makes viewing this film very fruitful.
The film opens with Bobby and his friends walking home from school. Along with Akkun, they make plans to go off the road the next day to take a shortcut to the next town to meet with their friend. What they find instead is a way going to a seemingly closed alien invasion theme park, named Violence Voyager. Within the park, they discover that they aren’t the alone, and that it is no longer play time.
Ujicha’s sophomore film treats both his technique and story with seriousness. Elements of pulp fiction can be seen in the illustrations but it does not fall into the trap of mere nostalgic trip. The Lovecraftian elements of the film makes it strange enough to be quite an alien experience than what is usually seen in recent B-movie pastiches. Violence Voyager goes all-out. It does not shy away from what could be uncomfortable. In fact, as in a Lovecraft story, its strength lies on its reflexive unbelievability and uncomfortability by actually embracing an encounter.
The film brings the strange into the equation. Surely, there’s science in it as much as science fiction goes, but the technology presented in the film, a machine-mother which reproduces her being onto the lost children’s body, brings about the strange-science imagination of the Gothic. This presents a Frankenstein’s monster in reverse. Bobby later on finds his friend has been turned into one of the machine-mother’s children but has retained his consciousness. The results of the technology open up a wide range of possibilities in terms of the film’s own lore. Why hasn’t the machine’s consciousness be transferred, too, and why just the body? What would happen if the machine’s consciousness were also transferred? The only weakness of its narrative is not reflecting on these open points and leaving the film to move within the mother-children framework rather than in the context of the machine.
In a similar fashion as a Lovecraft story, encountering the theme park brings its visitors to a point of no return. Unlike most science fiction, the film does not bring the viewer to a restoration of a comfortable state, but presents an actual progression, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. This experience is not far from the technique used in the film which too is an experience. Ujicha’s visual skills are no doubt top-notch, but the film consciously tries to veer away from appreciating this visuality, to emphasize more on the overall experience. Encounters with fluids in the film are so engrossing that you almost smell them.
Violence Voyager brings about a wholly different experience. It would be unfair to contain the film within merely B-filmic categorization as it treats its form and content with more insight than just mining nostalgia. If there’s anything in the past that it brings to the present, it is its mix of strange and weird that brings to the film what genre cinema in the past has been – the experience of the cinematic encounter.Violence Voyager does not bring to itself the self-referentiality of the contemporary auteur, which even more recent genre works with all their intellectualism have arguably been guilty with. As much as the style here is undeniably evident, Violence Voyager ensures the erasure of its filmmaker to give way to the film.
Violence Voyager is showing on July 20 at JAPAN CUTS.