If you are anywhere–and I mean anywhere–in the DC area on February 15 and 16, then mark your calendars for the American premiere of Genius Party and the world premiere of Genius Party Beyond. These two new Japanese features are from Studio 4°C, the same production studio that has given us Mind Game and Tekkon Kinkreet. Each 90-minute film is a compilation of seven shorts, some from well-established directors, some from the young and up-and-coming.
The Washington DC screening, which is a part of the Japan! Culture + Hyper-Culture festival, will also include in-person appearances by three of the fourteen Genius Party directors: Shinichiro Watanabe, Koji Morimoto, and Mahiro Maeda.
To truly grasp the uniqueness of this undertaking, listen to Studio 4°C CEO Eiko Tanaka describe the idea for these features in this FPS magazine interview:
“Studio 4°C was born from the desires of the creators who longed to create what they really wanted to make. Creators and people generally cannot keep living without expressing themselves. [Genius Party] has to have this kind of energy with strong longing for self-expression. This was the only requirement and also the theme. It was of course clear to us that it is much easier to sell the product if all the short films have the same tone from a given particular theme. But we chose not to make the same theme or set particular conditions to the films. Instead, we decided to have the diversity of these films be the sales point.”
Which major feature production studio in the US would take the risk of producing not one, but two 90-minute compilations of anything-goes animated shorts? Which studio would be inspired enough to hand the reins to fourteen different directors and allow each to bring to the screen the stories they really want to tell, and then find a workable business model to distribute these films to the general public?
There are many promising shorts in the Genius Party packages including new works by Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game) and Koji Morimoto. This trailer for the first Genius Party offers a taste of what’s in store.
In the FPS interview noted above, Tanaka lays out one of the primary reasons why her studio, which she cofounded in 1986 with Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato, is such a consistent producer of excellent and challenging works of animated art:
“Another reason for Studio 4Ã‚Â°C being successful might be that we are not a profit-seeking company. We have not tried to grow bigger, or to pursue profit, or to float the company on the stock market. We keep the number of our management and controller staff to a minimum to save the budget for the production of the film. Our policy has been that the film is made by the creators, but not by the capital. In spite of our intention, the studio has expanded, had more employees, and the number of film productions has increased. Naturally there are issues with managing larger production budgets. But we are confident in cost controlling and the artists are also fully aware of the deadlines and the limitations of the budget. I believe that we have reached where we are now because we have been producing the best possible pieces within a budget.”
One of the Genius Party shorts that I’m most looking forward to is Wanwa, the Puppy directed by Shinya Ohira. MangaAnimation.net recently offered scans of a magazine article featuring artwork from the short. The images in this article are a tantalizing mix of stylistic experimentation and individualistic character animation; its free-spiritedness reminds of the very best of the works by John and Faith Hubley, a comparison that can’t be made often nowadays. As anime critic Ben Ettinger writes, “it’s truly stunning stuff that has little to do with anime and everything to do with great animated art.” Ettinger’s blog AniPages Daily offers some explanation of the short’s technique and his thoughts about the short’s potential:
“Ohira is creating the backgrounds himself in addition to doing all the animation. He’s not only drawing but also gluing origami paper and string and other assorted materials directly onto the paper to create a very rich and beautiful texture. Sections of animation are even being animated using crayons. The crayoned keys will be inbetweened in a conventional manner, however, and not with crayons. The film will be made using many of the same materials that might be littered around the house of some pint-sized Picasso, in other words, extending the thematic underpinning to the materials used to make the film. I can only say that each of the individual images he has created are of stunning beauty and seem like they would function just as well framed on a wall as photographed in sequence.
A few images from Wanwa the Puppy: