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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Junk Head Blu-ray Review


Synergetic

Blu-ray Release: August 15, 2023

Video: 1.78:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 100:12

Director: Takehide Hori


Mankind can no longer reproduce, because of gene manipulation aimed at making life longer. The clones ruling the bottomless underworld may have become fertile. Parton (Takehide Hori) is selected to go on a mission through a subterranean labyrinth crawling with monsters to secure humanity's future. (From Synergetic’s official synopsis)


There is a long, fine tradition of animated films driven by singular visions, such as the work of Ralph Bakshi, René Laloux, Osamu Tezuka, and Phil Tippett, whose long-gestating Mad God (2021) recently took the horror, sci-fi, and animation fandoms by storm. But animation of any kind is a labor intensive process and even these auteurs had people working with them. Takehide Hori’s Junk Head is almost entirely a one-man show, closer to Frank Sudol’s cruder City of Rott (2006). There is one other credited animator, Atsuko Miyake, who also co-composed the music, co-created the sound design, and performs some of the voices, as well as a handful of fabricators, but, otherwise, it’s just Hori’s name all the way down the IMDb page: director, writer, voice actor, producer, co-composer, editor, production designer, set decorator, co-sound designer, digital effects artist, animator, costumer, sculptor, fabricator, and armaturist. That’s not too unusual for an animated short, but almost unheard of for a feature-length work.



Junk Head’s themes are rooted in common dystopian sci-fi tropes (some surprisingly similar to Mad God’s, by coincidence), but they don’t need to be unique to serve Hori’s images, which themselves owe a debt to the work of stop-motion luminaries, the Brothers Quay (aka: Stephen & Timothy Quay) and especially Jan Švankmajer, who was sort of the Godfather of the ‘90s avant garde stop-motion movement. Junk Head’s tortured little homunculi are biomechanical mash-ups, who navigate rundown, Kafkaesque environments, where apocalyptic survivors are defined by their increasingly esoteric manual labor jobs. Yet, even the bleakest and most violent moments are infused with whimsy and referential humor, creating an uncanny connection between avant garde industrial nightmares, H.R. Giger horror, and the sweet-natured adventure of Wallace and Gromit. That whimsy and sweetness is fortified by Hori’s expressive character animation and, in turn, made dramatic by a series of well-choreographed and edited little action sequences.


Junk Head is such an impressive and work-intensive endeavor that its greatest weakness might actually be its length, which drags out an otherwise cohesive little cyberpunk headtrip with a few too many gags and set-pieces. It’s as if, without budgetary constraints, Hori might have just kept on making the movie, stretching it into a series and dumping his hero deeper and deeper into the catacombs to discover stranger and stranger post-apocalyptic creatures. As is, the ending comes up pretty quickly after a (purposefully) listless middle act that feels like a separate short. There’s also a lot of unnecessary dialogue, at least when you compare it to similar works, like the above mentioned movies/shorts, or live-action alternatives, like Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988) or Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro’s Delicatessen (1991). Perhaps this particular complaint has more to do with the dialogue’s annoyingly phlegmy delivery, as if everyone is fighting a sinus infection. Still, if you premiered this as-is 25 years ago on MTV, it probably would’ve been one of my teenage self’s favorite movies, which counts for something. Speaking of MTV in the ‘90s, you could also draw comparisons between Junk Head and a number of music videos from the era, including ’s Tool’s “Sober” (directed by Fred Stuhr) and “Prison Sex” (directed by guitarist Adam Jones), and Static-X’s “Push It” (directed by Mick Olszewski), several of which were accused of ripping off the Quays at the time,



Video

Synergetic released Junk Head on DVD a few months back (there was some kind of error and it actually needed to be re-released, if I recall correctly) and is now presented in 1080p, 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray debut. I don’t have specific specs, but it was shot using digital cameras, probably in 4K, and the resulting HD transfer is nice, clean, and highly textured. Digital grain/noise is minimal, the shallow focus and motion blur effects don’t lead to choppy edges, and none of the crisp details are over-sharpened. The colors are all desaturated and earthy, but consistent and there are a couple of decent highlights. The main issue are some interlacing effects throughout the added English text and slightly foggy blacks (the CRT screen moiré effects were added in post and intended).


Audio

Junk Head is presented in its original stereo sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. I guess that it’s technically a Japanese language track, but the dialogue tends to be mumbled, digitized, or otherwise garbled (annoyingly so, as stated in the review). I’m a little disappointed that Hori and Miyake didn’t go for a full-on 5.1 mix, but that would’ve been a lot of work for a two person team. The sound design is purposefully thin with a hand-crafted tone to everything. Sometimes, effects are shrill or underwhelming, but it all kind of fits. Hori and Miyake’s techno-industrial music really sells the film’s throwback nature, recalling everything from Chu Ishikawa’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man score to The Matrix soundtrack, and is the track’s most dominant element.



Extras

  • The Making of Junk Head (42:15, HD) – An extensive behind-the-scenes video blog that covers the production and the film’s French premiere, including raw home videos, time lapse footage of Hori fabricating and animating armatures, storyboards, performance reference, effects before & afters, and stills.





The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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