Battlecry {Melbourne International Film Festival} – Film Review

Battlecry is a CGI animated sci-fi thriller set in a fictionalised 1980s Japan. It follows Soji (voiced by Shinya Tomita) a soldier on leave who is approached by Haya (Yui Fukuda) an agent of the ‘World Bank’ with a request to assist her on a mission.

Throughout the world, bizarre shadow monsters are appearing unprovoked with apparent links to Japanese citizens. The new performance enhancing super drug ‘Golden Monkey’ is thought to be to blame for these monsters and together Soji and Haya must locate the source of this drug and shut it down, discovering long hidden connections to Soji‘s childhood and a government cover up along the way.

The interesting novelty behind Battlecry is that with the exception of the voice actors and musical talent, this entire film has been written, produced and created as a solo project by its director, Yanakaya. Creating the entire thing on his laptop, Yanakaya has produced an anime-like action film which is one of the most interesting additions to the 2022 MIFF line-up and is quite an achievement in low budget filmmaking.

The animation throughout Battlecry is extremely janky at times and it would come as no surprise to the unenlightened viewer that it was a one-man project. Having grown up with early examples of CGI animation, such as 1993’s The Incredible Crash Dummies, as well as PlayStation 1 era video game cut scenes, the aesthetic of Battlecry brought back feelings of nostalgia for me. With character models being extremely simplistic what undoubtedly would look like placeholder pre-vis animation to audiences today, I found myself enjoying.

The foreknowledge of this film’s production meant that I was amazed by the detail the film exhibited thanks to its creator’s hard work, rather than being disappointed by the lack of detail which it would be unreasonable to expect a production of this type to feature.

The standout achievement of this movie’s style would be the beautifully realised locations and backdrops. It features urban cyberpunk designs of illegal black-market streets, love hotels and overhead tram systems. This creative flair more than made up for any shortcomings of the film’s more ambitious action sequences which I felt were the only times the director bit off more than they could chew on a technical level.

The storyline of Battlecry is very anime cliché heavy. Soji carries a sword for no real reason, the flashbacks to past trauma, the villain’s direct connection to the protagonist are all stock standard. Even the shadow monsters themselves seem to exist in the film solely so there can be action scenes combating them. There was no real reason for the shadow monsters to feature at all and even if Yanakaya is planning on using them in follow-up projects, I believe that time could have been better utilised on building up what minimal character development and plot the film had.

Although the twists and turns Battlecry goes through did still entertain me on a cheesy level, the movie still feels too short. With its 75-minute runtime, the hefty themes of past trauma, government conspiracies and the sub-plots involving childhood friends reconnecting years later all feel extremely half-baked and rushed as a result.

Battlecry may not look like much on a big cinema screen, but the sound design still impressed me with deafening explosions of dramatic gunfire. The voice actors also do a fine job, even though there were some moments where the supposed English-speaking characters were having trouble with their lines. In some ways, the experience as an English only speaking audience member, this felt janky as well. At least with the screening I attended, there were many grammatical errors, some subtitles disappearing off screen too quickly for anyone to have read them, and at one point the dialogue went without any translation text at all, and the subs only picked up midway through a sentence.

Battlecry isn’t a brilliant film. Although to be fair, there simply aren’t many movies it can be compared to and for that I give it credit. It is a quite literal ‘independent’ feature film. I enjoyed the aesthetic and appreciated that the director managed to create something very special all on his own. Now, while it may not look the best, it must be said Thor: Love & Thunder cost 250 million and still looked awful in its own way!

Battlecry is screening as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.
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