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The Burning Buddha Man ("Moeru Butsuzou Ningen")

North American Premiere
  • Japan
  • 2013
  • 80 mins
  • HD
  • Japanese
  • English (subtitles)

Sacred Buddha statues of Kyoto are being stolen in a series of crimes that are even stranger than one might first imagine — the true perpetrators, modus operandi and motivation for the thefts lie far beyond the threshold of familiar reality. High-school student Beniko is dragged into this waking nightmare when the statue at her family’s temple is taken — and her parents slain in a most gruesome manner. Alone now and shaken to the core, Beniko is taken under the wing of the mysterious monk Enju. He claims to be a close friend of her parents, and to have insights into the enigma they are confronted with. Beniko is brought to Enju’s sanctuary and given the liberty to roam its calm yet somehow unsettling grounds. When she discovers a secret room and its uncanny inhabitant, Beniko begins to realize that her situation is far darker and more disorienting than she can comprehend…

Prepare yourselves for a truly unique and bizarre experience — even by Fantasia’s very high standards of strange! THE BURNING BUDDHA MAN is the debut film by Ujicha, a remarkable young talent from Kyoto discovered and encouraged by his university professor, noted Japanese toy designer Reo Anzai. It’s notable not only for the tale it tells — a creepy collision of Buddhism, sci-fi and bio-horror — but for the highly unusual animation technique it employs, called “gekimation”. Essentially hand-drawn paper cutouts carefully arranged and shot live, it is perhaps closer to puppet theatre than the familiar frames-per-second animation we’ve all come to know. Like the venerable form called kamishibai, or paper theatre — live performances with drawings in narrated sequence — gekimation is one of those obscure and amazing Japanese cultural specialties. Its last known use was the 1970s fantasy TV show NEKOME KOZO (“Cat-Eyed Boy”), and now it is revived for Ujicha’s first film, allowing his meticulous and disturbing hand-painted artwork to spill forth from the screen, uncompromised by the necessary limitations of traditional animation. There’s nothing else out there remotely like this right now, and so it joins the growing list of astounding independent expressions of personal vision in animation that Fantasia has proudly built over the years.

— Rupert Bottenberg