Film Review – The Weird and Wonderful World of Ujicha: Violence Voyager/Burning Buddha Man

As an artform Anime already has a reputation for being weird and wonderful. But nothing really compares to the truly strange work of Ujicha. He exclusively works in a format he’s called ‘geki-mation’ and it could not be further away from the output of the world-renowned Studio Ghibli. For one thing, ‘geki’ comes from the Japanese word gekiga, a term designated for adult-only manga. Not only are Ujicha’s stories the polar opposite of the cutsey, family-friendly Ghibli fare, the animation style has none of their immaculate detail or dedication to realism. However, it is still just as impressive. Ujicha uses cut out images (each hand drawn and painted by him) mounted on sticks and then manipulated like marionettes in front of the camera. Layering in a polyphonic soundscape of music, diegetic sounds and voice over, the end product lies somewhere between animation and puppet show. Using over 3,000 props and cut-outs to make two feature length films, for which he was the sole creator, Ujicha is fast-becoming one of Japan’s most exciting auteurs. Released for the first time in the UK Burning Buddha Man (2013) and Violence Voyager (2018) are two very bizarre films from a very singular mind.

Burning Buddha Man opens in Kyoto, where a number of Buddha statues have been stolen. It quickly descends into madness as an evil, virtual Buddha descends on a temple and takes control of a couple who happen to be there, turning them into a grotesque monster. Their daughter Beniko, quickly stumbles upon a plot involving a Buddha sculptor who plans to transfuse with the statues to gain immense power. Beniko finds herself caught in a cosmic/spiritual fight between Buddhas, while all she wants is to get her parents back. Overall, the film seems to be designed to service Ujicha’s warped sense of humour; with characters literally vomited or excreted into different worlds and Buddha’s joining together like a Voltron robot as they prepare to do battle.

Violence Voyager has more of a concentrated plot and is, arguable the stronger of the two, but no less bizarre. Bobby, is an American school boy living in Japan who wants one last day of fun before the summer ends. He and his friend Akkun, discover an old theme park called the Violence Voyager, where they’re invited to fight their way through cardboard cut-out robots to find a prize at the centre of the park. Things take a turn for the bizarre when the boys discover that the park is a front to kidnap kids who’re then fed to a strange creature. Violence Voyager is not for the squeamish; it has some truly grotesque body horror, underpinned by squelching, slurping sound effects, as the kids are transformed and changed into something unrecognisable.

The works of Ujicha will certainly not be for everyone. The films are more displays for his artistic style than truly compelling narratives, and it’s likely that this style of animation will be more accessible in a shorter format. However, the sheer originality of Ujicha’s creativity leaps from every frame, meaning that these films are bound straight for cult status, where they will undoubtedly find their audience.

★★★


Fantasy, animation | Japan, 2013 | 15 | Blu-Ray | 25th January 2021 (UK) | Third Window Films | Dir.Ujicha | Nao Hanai, Chisako Hara, Moeka Haruhi

Adventure, Animation | Japan, 2018 | 15 | Blu-Ray | 25th January 2021 (UK) | Dir.Ujicha | Saki Fujita, Kellen Goff, Nao Hanai

2 DISC LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY CONTENTS
Disc 1Violence Voyager
Uncut original Japanese language version
Audio commentary from director Ujicha and producer Reo Anzai
Interview with director Ujicha (20min)
Short Film: Tempura (4min)
Storyboards
Teaser of Ujicha’s latest film
Original Trailer

Disc 2The Burning Buddha Man
Short Film: The Retnepac2 (16min)
Short Film: Space Yokai War (9min)
Original Trailer

Reversible sleeve artwork
Slipcase