It’s true what they say. Our formative years are important.
Our formative years are the years we are developing as humans. Between birth and the age of eight, we are developing our physical and emotional states and our cognition. But development doesn’t stop there. We are continuously developing as we grow old. Our high school years are especially important. We begin to develop more social skills. We begin to become more intimate as human beings. We have a sense of adventure and we want to explore the world around us.
It’s this sense of adventure that brings me to the point of this review. It’s a sense of adventure that got our protagonists – Bobby and Akkun – into a lot of trouble.
Who are Bobby and Akkun? Well, they’re the two protagonists of Violence Voyager – a rather special movie. It’s an adventure horror movie that lasts just under an hour and a half, sure, but it’s rather unique in that it’s a movie entirely made using the technique of ‘gekimation’.
Gekimation is a style of animation coined by Ujicha – director, writer and, I would argue, auteur. To clarify, gekimation is the use of hand-painted drawings that move in front of hand-painted backgrounds, almost like a puppet show. Because of how elaborate and unique this can be, Ujicha can certainly join the ranks of great film visionaries such as Hitchcock and Spielberg, for never have I seen such an impressive (if not bizarre) use of drawing and puppetry combined. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, nor is it easy to watch for such a long time, but it’s certainly a remarkable art form.
There is no easy way to describe the movie’s plot without somewhat degrading it or completely spoiling it, but Violence Voyager itself follows Bobby and Akkun as they decide to embark on an adventure. On their adventure, they come across a theme park and, as any pair of high school students would, they decide to check it out. Unfortunately for them, things don’t turn out to be happy-go-lucky. This isn’t Alton Towers or Disneyland, after all. This theme park is ran by a twisted man named Koike who established the theme park to lure children in for a rather complicated and creepy reason.
I realize that the way I’ve summarised it may make it sound somewhat generic, but I’m also aware that I am unable to explain it in a way that does not make it sound generic or that doesn’t spoil important plot events. I think, realistically, the best way to find out what the film is about is to simply watch it.
What I will say about the film, however, is that it is certainly creepy. Whilst watching it, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was watching some sort of creepy Star Wars–Stranger Things hybrid that seemingly had some sort of inspiration from the unusual mind of Stanley Kubrick. Although that might be an unusual thought to come by, I would argue it isn’t far from the truth. There is an unprecedented feeling of the story being set in the 1980s, particularly if we look at Bobby’s haircut which is very similar to that of the characters’ hairstyles in Stranger Things. Not to mention how fashion is somewhat similar. The Star Wars vibes come from the ending of the film where Bobby attempts to rescue the supposed heroine of the story. And Kubrick? Well, considering there are several scenes in Violence Voyager which contains an unsettling amount of child nudity and child experimentation/mutilation, I can only compare it to the unsettling nature of the rape and nudity scenes in films such as A Clockwork Orange.
Not only is the movie unsettling in the bigger picture, but it’s also unsettling in the smaller details as well. The way Ujicha has drawn the characters’ facial expressions, how he has made the eyes move at certain points in the movie… It is creepy. Again, though, not only is the movie unsettling in terms of what it portrays visually, what I found most unsettling was the sound. The soundtrack to the movie was very well put together and created probably the most engaging scenes I’ve seen in a horror movie in quite a while.
Whilst on the topic of sound, I will also comment on the voice acting. Admittedly, the voice acting (at least in the English dub) isn’t great. There some great performances, such as Derek Petropolis as Koike which was probably the creepiest character I’ve come across in a while, but overall the voice acting was rather lacking, despite having such a talented cast. Although I’m happy that such a unique film got an English dub, I am quite intrigued to see how the original Japanese cast performed the same script.
If my previous mention of the unsettling nature of the film didn’t put you off completely, please bear in mind that the film is – as horror in animation tends to be – quite bloodthirsty. It’s brutal. Whether it’s fighting between dogs and cats or very explicit child murders, there’s no escaping the gruesomeness. Of course, it’s quite common in horror to experience such events, but these events don’t usually happen in a movie which a cast full of high schoolers. There are only a handful of adults in the movie, most of which we don’t see for the majority of the movie and whose roles sometimes just add more questions to be answered. Violence in horror is to be expected, but when it’s inflicted on a cast full of naive children, it’s a different thing entirely and that immediately makes Violence Voyager a movie that won’t be watched by everyone.
For the niche crowd who will watch it, however (whichever niche that may be because I don’t know who the intended demographic is), it truly is an experience. It’s an imaginative story and one that would not be easily imitated. I doubt this story could have been told in any other medium. It’s certainly something I won’t be forgetting any time soon…
I’d like to thank the team over at TriCoast for allowing me to have the honor of having an early preview of Violence Voyager! It’s certainly opened my eyes to a completely different side to animation as I know it and I wouldn’t have been able to explore this side without you giving me this incredible opportunity.
If you’re interested in watching Violence Voyager for yourself, I have some good news! DarkCoast will release the film on several digital streaming platforms on October 21st – just in time for Halloween! You’ll be able to watch it on Amazon, DirecTV, FlixFling, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, FANDANGO and AT&T.
You can also watch a preview of the film here:
UPDATE: As of January 25th 2021, you can purchase Violence Voyager on Blu-Ray! Compiled alongside another of Ujicha’s works – Burning Buddha Man – the limited edition Blu-Ray contains interviews, storyboards and other short films! You can buy the Blu-Ray at Amazon, HMV, Zavvi, and the Arrow Films Store!