Directed by Ujicha
In what could very well be the stoniest movie of this year’s Fantasia Fest (and I don’t make that claim lightly), The Burning Buddha Man demands attention. If not for its base crudeness and multi-dimensional weirdness, then for the very fact that it even exists at all, this is a movie you need to see just to say that you’ve seen it. Sure, it looks like it was made by a sixth grader but that’s because it’s supposed to look like that.
In the live action introduction, a young girl in pigtails illustrates and cuts out characters of herself and her family, including backdrops to set the players against. As the trippy story begins we’re essentially stepping into her production, entering into a simple yet strangely immersive puppet-like world.
The technical process used to achieve this is called “gekimation” and involves strategically placing figures in the foreground and background, focusing them appropriately to add depth and scope. It’s largely static, and the camera must be moved in certain ways to achieve the feeling of motion. Then, you just shake the stick figures around and hope for the best, I suppose.
Nothing is actually animated and honestly it doesn’t seem that technical at all. The film is only eighty minutes but I’d like to know exactly how long the shooting schedule was for first-time director, Ujicha, and how demanding the process really was. But the fact that it’s not a rousing technical achievement is one of the primary reasons why it’s so hypnotically surreal. Imagine a ‘shroom-induced “South Park” episode inspired by Edvard Munch’s expressionist masterpiece, “The Scream”, and you wouldn’t be far off.
The story follows the film’s puppet master, Beniko, whose parents were murdered at the hands of fourth-dimensional entities known as Seaddattha, a seemingly sinister group stealing Buddha statues to protect them from the mistreatment of humans. Once Beniko delves into their world, a growing mythology begins to develop that uncovers the truth about these strange, deformed creatures who are actually made up of other statues and human beings that have been horribly fused together. There is a chance in this process to heighten the powers of any being, and that becomes the quest as Beniko finds out more about her parents’ fate.
There’s also a lot of slime in Buddha Man and I’m a big fan of the myriad of ways Ujicha uses it: snaking out of mouths and pouring slowly out of asses, it even works as a portal conduit to another plane of existence. The marketing department (that’s probably just us fans) should mass-produce actual slime to promote the movie accompanied with a stick figure of one of the many disgusting looking characters. In other words Mr. Ujicha, you had me at ooze.
The Burning Buddha Man uses kung-fu tropes and twisted ideas about enlightenment to tell a demented, spiritually pornographic fantasy about the afterlife. As the story becomes more and more about the fascinating world of the Seaddattha, it’s the grotesque beauty of these unholy holy men and the grotesque beauty of the film itself that make it so weirdly unique and captivating. It’s about the transformative powers and potential horrors of mutation, just as the plot and aesthetic of The Burning Buddha Man is a mutation and bastardization of Japanese Buddhism to a certain extent – and I mean that in the best possible way.
3 1/2 out of 5