Welcome to the world of JUNK HEAD
JUNK HEAD is a dark, dystopian sci-fi-horror film that alternates between the grotesque and the cute. Told through the medium of stop-motion animation, it presents a unique film world and unforgettable dolls animated to perfection in an experience that has wowed all who have seen it.
Its story is set in the far future at a time when humanity has achieved immortality through gene manipulation, but has lost the ability to procreate. An explorer is sent deep bowels of the Earth to recover genetic information from mutants. His journey across a landscape dank industrial landscape is always gripping due to the dense atmosphere created by moody lighting and highly detailed sets, highly cinematic due to camerawork, editing and animating that conveys thrilling action, and really fun to follow due to the dangerous creatures and demented characters who crash together over the course of the story.
The film is a true indie work in that it is the singular vision of its director, Takahide Hori. He is an interior director by trade but he had a sci-fi story he needed to tell and created an award-winning 30-minute version that attracted attention. Soon after, he quit his job to work as writer, director, editor, actor, (and more – watch the credits) with a small team over the course of seven years to complete the project, everyone creating sets, dolls, and special effects and then animating everything to bring the feature film to the big screen. His team included freelance creatives like stop-motion animator Atsuko Miyake, Ken Makino and Yuji Sugiyama who made props, sets, and worked on technical aspects like using Adobe After Effects to bring to life this unique and twisted animated vision. Once the film was finished, professional translator Emily Balistrieri, a freelance translator who has worked on novels like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl (here’s my review of the film), brought the language of the characters to life with puns and neologisms that fit the world perfectly – probably best seen in the “mashroom” scene where the main character goes on a mushroom hunt for a weird-looking penis-like vegetable growths that crawl around once plucked from their grotesque “beds.”
Earlier this year, JUNK HEAD became a word-of-mouth hit in Japan where it played to sold-out screenings at mini-theatres for many weeks. It has since been picked up for festival play at the New York Asian Film Festival and Fantasia, and prospects for theatrical releases seem good. I have had the chance to watch the film as part of the New York Asian Film Festival (review here) and now Atsuko Miyake, the film’s stop-motion animator, has generously given me the opportunity of an interview to explain her inspirations, her part in the production, what it was like working on the project for so long, and what she hopes happens next for the world of JUNK HEAD.