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{Movie Review} The Poor Boy Had No Idea: Violence Voyager (2018)

"You have no idea how important these forming years are to young people.”

When Tyler asked if I wanted to review Violence Voyager for Signal Horizon, I said, “Hell yes!” I had never heard of the film, or the director, or the bizarre animation technique known as “gekimation,” but one look at the trailer convinced me that this film was actually cursed, that it had been pulled, bloody and squalling, from some other dimension, and that I needed to experience it for myself and then die in a puddle of mutagenic goo.

Over the years, it has become de rigueur in the West to refer to films from Japan as “weird,” but sometimes the shoe just fits. The weirdness of Violence Voyager begins with that “gekimation” technique I mentioned. A quick Google search for “gekimation” doesn’t turn up much besides the works of animator/director Ujicha, whose previous “gekimation” opus was 2013’s The Burning Buddha Man, which I haven’t seen, but, after watching Violence Voyager, I need to.

As near as I can tell, “gekimation” is a type of animation in which hand-painted paper cut-outs are moved in front of painted backdrops. The result is a kind of paper puppet show.

Nothing can actually animate in the traditional sense, and if characters need to change facial expressions or close their fists, one paper cut-out is substituted for another. Add to this the fact that the film then incorporates actual bodily fluids (disturbing already, right?) and fire, and you’ve got some idea of what this bizarre animation style is capable of.

Here’s the thing, though. It would be easy for the “gekimation” technique to be a gimmick and nothing more. But in Violence Voyager, the story fits the medium, and vice versa, with each one making the other stronger. Without a story that works, the “gekimation” would fall flat; without the “gekimation,” the film would lose much of its weird power. They’re two odd tastes that taste odd together!

The painted cut-outs lend everything a storybook quality, and as that storybook descends into Cronenbergian madness—complete with paper cut-outs bleeding and vomiting and… other stuff—the obvious power of the medium to tell this kind of viscerally unsettling story becomes apparent. Even just watching the figures “move” by essentially wobbling back-and-forth in front of their background heightens the film’s sense of helplessness.

So, what is that storyline, exactly? To go into too many specifics would be to spoil some of the fun of Violence Voyager, but it involves two kids on the last day of summer, who go on an excursion to the next village over in order to see their friend who transferred schools. On the way, they find a run-down place called Violence Voyager, which is billed as a “hands-on amusement park.”

The story of the amusement park is simple enough—there are alien robots who have wiped out 80% of the human population, and now those that are left must resist them using raincoats to protect themselves from the “strong alkaline liquid” that the robots use to melt human flesh before “they absorb us as nourishment” and fight them with water guns filled with “piddlecan,” a “special type of water” that can defeat the robots.

Sure, that’s a weird amusement park, but the kids are game enough, especially when they learn that they get to pick their own water guns. Naturally, the park itself is a bit of a let-down at first, as the “robots” are just spring-loaded animatronics that pop up, and the place is both deserted and in disrepair.

Then the kids find a young girl, also dressed in one of the Violence Voyager raincoats, who says that she’s been there for days, and that she and her boyfriend came together, but couldn’t leave, kicking off the kids’ descent into a weird hell of grotesque science experiments and body horror.

As the film unfolds there are scads of naked children, strange monsters with weird TV heads, a robot graveyard, violence against animals, a creepy chimpanzee in a portable toilet, a character named Old Man Lucky Monkey, and lots more. Everything feels wrong from the very beginning, and it never feels any more right, although honestly, by the film’s climax, even its most grotesque elements have become more familiar than they probably ever should.

The version of Violence Voyager I watched was a screener on my laptop, dubbed and with a watermark over the whole thing, and even that could only do so much to dampen its weird atmosphere. The ideal time and place to watch it would be a secret screening at some film festival, where you had no idea what you were getting into, and the entire audience had no warning as to what they were about to experience.

Casual moviegoers will likely find Violence Voyager off-putting, to say the least. It’s a film that feels like what it is—something that was made by hand, designed to be distributed in secret, passed around like the film equivalent of a ‘zine. Those who already think they want to see it are the only ones Violence Voyager was ever intended for.

If the film isn’t quite as cursed as the trailer makes it seem, that’s simply because nothing is as unsettling when it starts to make more sense. It’s still a film like no other, what Drifting Classroom would be like if it had been made by Hideshi Hino in some alternate dimension where paper dolls were how we did animation.

If that sounds like something you want to experience then, by all means, put on this special raincoat, fill your dolphin squirt gun up with “piddlecan,” and let’s fight some hideously mutated robots!  Violence Voyager is out today on most major streaming platforms.