Monday 1 July 2013

Odokuro (2011)

Director: Aurelio Voltaire
Star: Gary Numan
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Professional Cuban weirdo and cultural superhero Aurelio Voltaire may be best known today for dark and quirky songs that liven up episodes of the children's TV show, The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy, but he started out in stop motion animation, inspired by the classic films of Ray Harryhausen, a first love that he's never forgotten. He began as a kid, using a Super 8 camera he bought at the age of ten, then at seventeen he ran away to New York and worked his way up the ladder animating anything he could, usually commercials and station idents. He's also taught the subject for two decades at New York's School of Visual Arts, where this film was shot, or anywhere anyone might pay attention, like a panel I saw at Phoenix's horror film festival, Fear Fest, in 2010. Over the last decade, he's been creating a series of stop motion animations called Chimerascope, each merging a suitably Voltaire vignette with a cryptic title and a narration by a musician.

How cryptic do you want to get? The short he played at Fear Fest was DemiUrge Emesis, with a narration by Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo and now, of course, movie soundtracks galore. Before that was X-Mess Detritus, narrated by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and Transrexia, with narration by Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. Perhaps the first in the series or perhaps more of an influence on it, there's also Rakthavira, going all the way back to 1994, with Debbie Harry of Blondie providing the narration. Those early shorts were only a minute long, but this one hits the seven minute mark. The title is a real word, sourced from Japanese mythology where it means a starving skeleton. These particular skeletons are fifteen times taller than regular people, because they're amalgamations, constructed from the bones gathered from regular sized folk who died of starvation, and they like nothing more than biting off our heads, presumably to get bigger.
Voltaire naturally gifts us with a skeleton here, partly because of the title and partly because what Ray Harryhausen fan could pass up using a skeleton in his stop motion animated short? This one's a Sumatran rat monkey freed from a bell jar by a typewriter. We're conditioned to see him as the villain of the piece but he's really a beleaguered hero, tormented by a cavalcade of curiosities and obsolete technology. It's a gorgeous collection: old fashioned radios and cameras, typewriters and adding machines, LPs and cassette tapes, one of which I noticed was Replicas by Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army, not uncoincidentally the beginning of his machine era. It looks like the display window of my sort of antique shop, right down to the mounted jackalope heads. Because this is a Voltaire short, these objects aren't there merely to make me drool, they're also haunted, starting with a cursed tape deck that springs to life and speaks in the voice of Gary Numan.

It muses enticingly on the philosophical origins of life, what it actually means and how it evolves, but Numan's soft voice and the sheer range of his thought mean that it's difficult not to let this narration wash over us, playing out as just another instrument in a lively score by Gregory Hinde. However, it refuses to be relegated to the background, because there's such a strong tie between the audio and the video, albeit Voltaire's impish stop motion work interpreting literally what the narration clearly intends to be metaphorical. That escalates until Numan mentions the wind being knocked out of our sails and Voltaire hits us with the twist. Even more than DemiUrge Emesis, this is a short film that's worth watching over and over again, just to see which different moment leaps out at us each time. First time it'll be the typewriter letter eyes, then perhaps the steampunk look to the skeleton and... well, you go find out for yourself. You can thank me later.

Odokuro is available to watch for free at YouTube.

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