“God is Dead! We Killed Him!” exclaim some funny little mole/penguin people in Takahide Hori’s Junk Head, only to follow it up seconds later when a giant worm spits out the divine visitor from above with “He Hath Risen”. An extreme feat of technical prowess, Junk Head is a marvel of cyberpunk production design tempered with wry humour and a weary exasperation as regards “humanity” and its children. A man loses his head, literally and figuratively, and finds himself on a journey into the deepest darkest underground filled with mutant clones and terrifying monsters, searching for salvation while groping for identity.
Far in the future, humanity thought it had it made – abnegating their responsibilities to a crowd of lowly clones and living a life of ease, but the clones rebelled and took themselves underground leaving humanity to fend for itself on the surface. Immortal through gene replacement therapy, humanity has also lost the ability to reproduce naturally and now that a disease has wiped out around 20% of the remaining population with no sign of stopping, there is urgent need to rebuild the species.
Hoping to find an answer in the world below, humanity sends one cyborg researcher on a desperate mission. Sadly, the capsule carrying the robot is shot down by wary humanoids living on the higher levels. His head continues to fall until it’s found by a scavenger party who take it to a doctor who “recognises” the head inside the helmet as “human”. Seeing as humanity is, in a sense, their creator, the clones stand back in awe of their new “God”. Now placed into an adorable little white stormtrooper-meets-I-Robot body, God can remember nothing of his past life and spends most of his new one trying to get to grips with his tiny hands and unwittingly walking into certain death only to be saved when the various evil creatures remember they don’t like the taste of metal.
As time moves on God takes on many forms as he falls further through the underground universe, swapping his cute round body for a blocky makeshift one without a voice but with a bigger heart. Having regained some of his memories immediately before his first transformation, the second God is not such a nice guy but “Junkers” is the type to whip up chairs for old ladies and walk miles to gather “Mashrooms” for his new masters, not to mention leaving some food behind for a hungry mutant girl. Once his memories are fully restored (through repeated blows to the head), God thinks back on his soulless life on the surface and realises he’s never felt so alive as he does 600 feet under. The sky might be pretty, but it’s cold up top.
As cute as God is (in all his incarnations), Junk Head’s world of basement horrors is surreal and terrifying. Some monsters are more harmful than others, but the major peril of the middle layers is persistent wormholes from which giant, toothy creatures emerge to devour unsuspecting travellers. Fleshy spiders hang from the ceiling and “Mashrooms” appear to be fleshy protuberances grown on humanoid backs imprisoned within walls. The post-apocalyptic underground city is a perfectly designed mix of makeshift and industrial architecture, covered in dust, grime, and scratches. God’s first body is appropriately worn before he even gets it, a true tribute to the depth of Hori’s conceptual design.
Drawing inspiration from Giger and Kubrik, the world which most comes to mind is, perhaps unexpectedly, David Lynch’s Dune. From the strange mole/penguin people and their rubbery suits to the torpedo shaped, bright red big busted women the underground is an industrial fantasy zone where tiny dinosaur-like snake worms waddle around adorably before being picked off for dinner. Hori brings scope to the claustrophobic world of tunnels and ducts by shooting at a distance with painterly compositions echoing German expressionism. He echoes Lynch again in the constant, dream-like use of dissolves and montage while the punk soundtrack and quick fire swapping from one empty corridor to another is reminiscent of Shinya Tsukamoto or Sogo Ishii. Despite its rather abrupt ending (which does at least tease further adventures for God in the wilderness), Junk Head is a charming, surreal odyssey through a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with zany humour and rich in character detail. Hopefully the second coming of God will not be too far off.
Screened at Raindance 2017.
Original trailer (dialogue free)