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Ujicha: Violence Voyager/The Burning Bud - Ujicha( Blu Ray) [Third Widow Films - 2021]

Well, here’s two discs of utter madness from Ujicha and Third Window Films. The release holds all of the work thus far by Ujicha: two feature-length films, Violence Voyager, and The Burning Buddha Man, and several short films. Ujicha is a Japanese director and auteur, with a direct hand in all aspects of his works. Most notably he himself painted and illustrated practically every image you see on the screen, because the films on this release are not live-action films, but gekimation. I still can’t ascertain whether Ujicha is a pioneer in this regard, or whether he is building on a specific Japanese tradition, but certainly, his work fits into a wider history of cut-out animation. Thus, all the characters and scenery are constructed out of card and painted, then manipulated for live or stop motion filming. It’s a thoroughly odd and alien effect and not the basic technique you might imagine; it adds an unusual angle to the content of the films.

To work backwards, Violence Voyager (2018) is the most recent film presented here, and looks it too - one nice aspect of this release is that it charts Ujicha’s development from his earliest works. Without giving too much of the plot away, Violence Voyager sees two friends, Bobby and Akkun, discovering an amusement park hidden away near their mountain village; from thereon the film descends into a bizarro fiction-esque tale involving killer robots, gory deaths, and the farming of childrens’ corpses. It’s a good story, that slots into a tradition of deranged, out-there Japanese horrors. However, the film - like everything on these discs - stands or falls depending on the viewer’s opinion of the visuals. The cardboard cutouts, which are often painted superbly, are manipulated and moved creating an effect that is hard to describe in words, and I would advise you to check out the trailers online. For me, I found the visual techniques equal parts enthralling and boring, which I realise sounds ridiculous, but there are short sequences of perhaps ten seconds where you are astounded on a technical level, then halted at the student film-esque stop motion aspects of it. When it is effective, it really is spellbinding, but it perhaps creates a film that is generally slightly slow. The cardboard on-screen is aided and abetted by various liquids (there’s lots of memorable blood and vomit spewing forth), but also fire. All of this is brought to life by incredibly innovative camera work, utilising clever perspectives, lighting, and different lenses - the film is constantly dazzling on a technical level. Whilst it does have some jump scares, they are not particularly effective, and the film relies on a creepy, somewhat demented atmosphere; in many respects it feels like a children’s film, just one with very adult themes. The soundtrack is hit and miss, with a nice brooding theme, but elsewhere awful ‘rock music’ over action sequences - though this does add to the bizarro atmosphere.

The Burning Buddha Man (2013), Ujicha’s second feature film, is very much a less refined predecessor to Violence Voyager, using the same techniques but to less overall effect, though it actually starts and finishes with short live action sections. The story here involves two parties locked in a struggle over Buddha statues, though again, I’d rather not ruin the plot for anyone, but suffice to say it’s on a par with Violence Voyager in terms of oddness: my favourite moment being when several half-human, half-statue creatures fuse together to make a mega-human-animal-statue creature. Whilst The Burning Buddha Man doesn’t live up to Violence Voyager, it does have some very creepy moments, aided by nice wonky synth work, and some excellent sound design. The problem with gekimation is that the format overrides the content, so I fear that The Burning Buddha Man and the compiled short films pale rather obviously in comparison to Violence Voyager. Those shorts, The Retnepac 2 (2009), Space Yokai War (2010), and Tempura (2014) evidence the huge jump in technical proficiency from the earliest efforts to the later. These themes are addressed in an interview with Ujicha, included as an extra, where he details the insanely laborious production process and explains that whilst The Burning Buddha Man took one and a half years to make, Violence Voyager took three years. Truly a labour of love. Also included across the discs are storyboards for Violence Voyager and a commentary for Violence Voyager, where Ujicha explains that the film is set in Uji where he grew up alongside a similar mountain; he also discusses Westworld and Jurassic Park as strong influences on the film, and mentions scared children fleeing a screening!
 

As stated earlier, your opinion on these films will largely depend on how you feel about the visuals. Personally, I found them compelling and stunning, as long as you can cope with some clunky moments and a pace that is generally slow - and of course, the earlier films are more difficult in that regard. It would be fair to say that I have never seen anything like the films on these discs, which is compliment enough. There is a teaser in the extras for Ujicha’s next venture, which doesn’t give much away, but I must admit to being intrigued as to what he will do in the future. To buy a copy direct head here

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Martin P
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