There is a series of Buddha statue thefts in Kyoto. Beniko, a high school girl, gets the Buddha statue at her family's temple stolen and has her parents killed at the same time. Beniko hears from Enju, her parents' friend, that a robbery group called SEADDATTHA is the one who killed her parents, and feels the strong urge for vengeance. Enju offers Beniko to live with him since she has no place to go. She wanders into Enju's secret room and meets an ugly creature that looks like a fusion of her parents and Buddha statue...
An hidden gem that manages to be charming and jarring, scary and funny, and even experimental but conventional all at the same time. StoryThe Burning Buddha Man is an hilarious movie done in the style of a body horror movie while following the typical beats of an action superhero story with a sprinkle of mystery. That sentence might be a lot to unpack so let’s take it step by step. The newly orphan female lead, Beniko, finds herself in the middle of a conflict between the priest Enju and a group of deformed people that have been fused with Buddha statues while trying to keep herself safe and discover who killed her parents. While having an intro worthy of a horror mystery show the story takes a turn as Beniko gets a full training arc, a literal power up thanks to transformations and eventually has a climactic final fight with the big evil enemy. The outline of the story becomes so incredibly conventional that you start to question if you aren’t actually watching a parody. Especially when the movie gets into funny non-sequiturs like when we get some Buddhamen fusing together to fight, in a blatant nod to Combining Mecha. Despite the seemingly conflicting abundance of elements the clear outline of the plot helps to keep track of everything and following along feels weirdly easy considering the wackiness of it all. By the end all loose ends are tied up and everything reaches a perfectly satisfying and thematic climax.Visuals & DirectionWith all that said about the story, that’s not what will immediately catch your attention and surprise you. That honor belongs to the visual style. One quick look at the trailer and you will instantly notice the unique style of this movie that the auteur calls gekimation. In short, it’s stop motion animation done with painted paper cutouts and enhanced with real special effects (like fire or smoke). The grotesque way all the characters are depicted is the first of the horror elements but certainly not the last, since most of them end up suffering terrifying injuries going from simple stab wounds all the way to being burned alive or eaten by giant tentacles. The special effects also help in building up the unnatural feeling of it all, after you get used to the paper cutouts seeing slime pour out of them to simulate vomit or guts is extremely jarring. While in someone else's hands the gekimation might have felt gimmicky and amateurish, Ujicha brings peerless editing and direction to it all. The entire movie is full of engaging shots with immaculate composition that wouldn’t look out of place in a top tier hollywood production horror movie and made the movie tense and scary. Sound & MusicGiven the limited range of possibilities that the experimental art form permits, getting the sound right was vital and the director accomplished this masterfully. Every scene was perfectly complemented with sounds so appropriate I often almost forgot that every single one had to be added in post. Characters running up stairs, buildings exploding and glass shattering all helped make the world of the story feel real. The show also often used J cuts and similar techniques to bring further energy into scenes and make the action exciting. The OST has complete control over the tone of each scene and is the main driver of the eerie atmosphere present throughout the show. That’s not the only thing it does well however, since it also manages to perfectly fit the dramatic and action focused scenes in the second half. CharactersThe characters are overall charming but also where this incredible movie sadly ends up faltering a bit and what ultimately makes it fall short of a perfect 10/10. The two most important things about characters have thankfully been achieved, everyone that matters has both a clear purpose in the story and a clear goal. Unfortunately after a while the characters start to have confusing motivations and lack direction, and just in general no one has any depth. Most characters exist to simply fulfill the role they have been cast for and nothing more. Many of them even get gruesomely killed literally seconds after their role in the story was done. The Burning Buddha Man was one of the most unique viewing experiences I had in my life, and just for that I would recommend it, but thankfully it also ended up being incredibly made. Highly recommended to everyone.