That indie cinema is thriving in Japan is an understatement. Yet, the same cannot be said about the animation scene. While many indie animated short films appear on Vimeo and the likes (e.g. Airy Me (2013) by Yoko Kuno), it is still rather uncommon for feature-length indie animation to be made. Yet, times may be changing. In 2019, Kenji Iwaisawa delivered On-Gaku: Our Sound (2019) and now, two years later, Yanakaya unleashes his independent animation Battlecry.
A new drug called Golden Monkey is on the rise in a poverty-stricken Japan.This mysterious substance does not only generates a nearly infinite energy within its user, but ultimately causes its users, via a unique genetic interaction, to transform into violent shadow-weapons emptied from their subjectivity. Haya Jalili (Yui Fukuda), a World Bank employee, is dispatched to Japan dispatched to investigate these shadows and the criminal organisation that benefits from exporting these biological weapons to fight in international wars and conflicts.She eventually teams up with Soji Yamagata (Shinya Tomita), a soldier off duty with a troubled past.
In Battlecry, Japan is revealed as being the country who is most profoundly marked by a capitalistic logic, whose relational dynamics is most contaminated by the demand to enjoy-all-alone. This capitalistic celebration of enjoyment does not only feeds, causes the blossoming of night-life districts centred on drinking, sex, and gambling and illegal prostitution, but also fragments society by creating a huge inequality and disintegrate inter-subjective relations. Japan is, in other words, a country that is succumbing to the blossoming of the demand to enjoy-all-alone.
In this sense, the new drug Golden Monkey is not only a symptom of the command to enjoy, but also a symptom of the societal destruction and inequality that such a-relational blossoming of a need for enjoyment creates.
Soji is marked by traumatic event in his childhood. When he was eight, he lost his family due to a nuclear incident. Yet, he believes that the incident was, in fact, a nuclear experiment and the that subsequent treatment at a facility was merely cover for the actual goal of the government: to study the radiation effects on the human bodies of the guinea pigs. Could his traumatic past have any link with the current rise of ‘Golden Monkey’? Has the Japanese state anything to do with the rise of these new drug among the poor?
Battlecry offers a quite straightforward story. Yanakaya tells his story in a chronological order with some explanatory flashbacks. Yet, while such narrative simplicity often short-circuits any attempt to deliver a satisfying end, the simple twists that dictate the tempo of the finale of the Battlecry ensures that the spectator will be on the edge of its seat.
It is quite impressive that Yanakaya made most of the visuals for his sci-fi narrative by himself, it is evident from the end-product that it was a one-man job with a limited budget. The computer generated visuals and many of the animations are rough and lack finer details (e.g. faces are simple). The character models have a low polygon count and many textures that bring the world alive are somewhat muddy. Shortcuts also have been taken. Many shots lack any kind of animation and receive their dynamic feel from spatial camera movement. Battlecry is, furthermore, full of simplified and somewhat janky animations and facial expressions.
Yet, this visual roughness of Battlecry does not really complicate the visual pleasure of the spectator. Yanakaya succeeds in giving his animated narrative a certain nostalgic ‘video-gamey’ charm by enhancing the feel of the visuals with a pleasant play with lighting and by relying on contrasting colours. The flow of the narrative is enhanced by the pleasant musical accompaniment, be it electronical or jazzy, tensive or emotional. In truth, the harmonious combination of visuals and music often succeeds to make up for the lack of ‘action’ that marks the action-sequences or to strengthen the impact of the fleeting moments of visceral violence.
Battlecry may be rough around the edges and take visual shortcuts whenever possible, Yanakaya still succeeds in visually engaging the spectator and deliver a narrative that will leave audiences satisfied. Battlecry proves that, even with a limited budget, one can showcase one’s potential and communicate one’s passion to audiences.