The Weird and Wonderful World of Ujicha: Violence Voyager / Burning Buddha Man first published by Sight & Sound March 2021
“Anything is possible in this world,” young Beniko hears at the beginning of Ujicha’s debut feature Burning Buddha Man (2013) – and, as if to confirm this, the speaker is a deer’s head mounted on the wall. At her desk, Beniko creates a 2D diorama with hand-drawn cutouts, in a representation of her own story which also introduces the form of the rest of the film (save for a live-action coda). For, inspired by the visuals of the animated television series Cat Eyed Boy (1976), Ujicha practises geki-mation, manipulating layers of flat cardboard models like puppets in a manner familiar from the animated work of René Laloux (Fantastic Planet, 1973; Gandahar, 1987), while adding real lighting, flames, and gross liquids (suggestive of vomit, blood and other emissions). Serving all at once as writer, director, designer, cinematographer and editor, Ujicha (real name Satoshi Okuda) is the perverse deity in his strange hermetic universe of the imagination.
Burning Buddha Man takes its heroine on an odd spiritual odyssey through a world where humans become one with the divine in more than one way (not all salubrious), and the film’s focus on the misappropriation and monstrous modification of Buddha statues makes it literally iconoclastic. Ujicha’s second feature Violence Voyager (2018) tracks Bobby’s adventures in an amusement park full of horrifying secrets, where his cruelly accelerated coming of age is accompanied by bodily metamorphoses and destructive spurts of white goo. The visual style may be naïve and the plots childish, but both films place their characters’ transformative rites of passage in the unsettling mode of ero guro nansensu (‘erotic grotesque nonsense’), and while presenting youthful experience, their themes are too disturbing to be suitable for actual children. Absurd and unnerving, these features ooze with enough Cronenberg-esque mutations, psychosexual manifestations and body horror to keep entertained any fan of anime’s weirder byroads.
Disc: Third Window Films two-disc Blu-ray set. In both his commentary (shared with producer Reo Anzai) and interview, Ujicha offers insights into his inspirations and working practices. The three sketch-like geki-mation shorts (The Retneprac 2, Space Yokai War, Tempura) are even more bizarre than the features, almost to the point of incoherence.