Monju Hunters of Sofugan Island: carrying a warning of environmental devastation and human folly

Karim Eich and Dirk Wachsmuth, “Monju Hunters of Sofugan Island” (2017)

An unexpectedly deep and melancholy short film, this sci-fi short is set in a not too distant future in which the Earth’s ecosystems are collapsing and governments around the planet are moving people off onto distant artificial worlds. A lone aged whaler (voiced by Robert Watkins) refuses to leave Sofugan Island and is left on his own among the ruins of his whaling ship and the settlements of his island home. He reminisces about his times as a young whaler specialising in hunting monju whales (the future colossal mutated forms of the whales that exist today). In his young days, hunting monjus was an unregulated industry on the high seas and Sofugan Island was a refuge for adventurers, criminals, the persecuted and other marginal people fleeing their own countries for whatever reason. Merchants and dealers followed them and in time bustling if crowded towns grew up on the island.

The lone whaler allows viewers to follow him as he spends the rest of his days wandering around his ship and flying it over the (presumably empty) oceans through thick clouds of hazy pollution. He keeps a library of holograms in which we can see something of the wild hunts he and his fellow hunters, working as a crew, engaged in. We see and experience his loneliness and learn something of the life he once led and the many memories and stories he could share with us. We learn that he was once married and that his wife is now dead but we do not know if they had any children.

Where the animation excels is in portraying the details of a dying culture through its abandoned and derelict structures and in the character of the aged whaler, wearing his years lightly on his face, his eyes and in the way he carries himself as he wanders through his home. He looks out to the western horizon and sees one of many space-ships carrying people into the heavens, taking them to the artificial settlements. He hopes that people will be happy in the “New World Programs” that they have been enticed to join by their governments. Viewers may have the impression that, though the old whaler may not understand what the hidden government / corporate agendas are behind these interstellar settlements, he has most likely made the right choice in staying behind even though this means he will die a lonely man, abandoned by the rest of humanity.

The film is very moving in its forlorn melancholy and distinct atmosphere, and has a distinct style in its murky colours and scenes of ghost towns with their empty streets and abandoned shops with their dirty, peeling tiles and broken doors and windows. For a short work that initially appears insubstantial, it carries a complex message within which there is a warning about human nature: eager and impulsive for new thrills, ready to throw over and abandon completely a way of life and culture that had been decades, even centuries in the making, and exploiting the Earth’s resources to the extent of destroying them completely. Once the free-wheeling monju-hunting industry (which was probably already close to destroying the monju whales) comes under government regulation, one gets a sense that the regulation comes mainly to close down completely the society that developed around the industry: because it represents freedom and rebellion, and in its own way is a democratic society outside the reaches of a global police state.