Studio 4C’s Genius Party

Genius Party

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.

Genius Party

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?

Genius Party

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 4°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:

Wanwa the Puppy

Wanwa the Puppy

LINKS
Genius Party [official website]
Studio 4°C [official website]
Info/ticket page for DC screening on Feb. 15-16
Stills from the Genius Party shorts on Catsuka.com


  • Nancy B

    I wish them well. I also hope that the short films have more coherence and story than the stylistically gorgeous but absolutely awful TEKKON KINKREET. Chances are that this will be a superior effort, since it is a lot more difficult to make a good feature than a good short and more than one person is handling the story chores.

    Studio 4 C certainly has broken away from the standard anime look, and it’s good to hear that they are encouraging individual artists to develop their own styles. A more modest name for the show might help them, at least in English. Genius is earned, you don’t proclaim it yourself (to misquote Chuck Jones).

  • Benjamin DS

    I hope I’ll get to see this in theatres. Had to order the Mind Game DVD from Japan, and am still hoping to see it in theatres at some animation festival once.

  • http://stephansolarchive.blogspot.com Stephan

    Studio 4C is an awsome studio. They are experimental and produce good animations where 2D meets 3D. I like their shorts better than their features. “Global Astroliner” is my favorite short:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk4o37A8_NM

    They also made excellent ( very short ) shorts for Utada Hikaru’s album
    “Exodus”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0GTf89TpY0

    Great work, can’t wait to see it!

  • Chuck R.

    “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?”

    answer: Disney. It’s called Fantasia, it’s available to rent on DVD. (I recommend it.) It was also a critical and financial disaster and was followed by a series of other package films that bored audiences until Cinderella was released. There is also Heavy Metal (yawn) And countless Animation Celebrations, Tournees and Sick and Twisteds. They stay on the fringes largely, because as Nancy B points out: feature-length stories are the more challenging enterprise, and more engaging to audiences. And (with all due respect to Miyazaki) it’s an American artform and no one does them quite like Americans.

    Amid, I think postings like these are your greatest service to the animation fans, and I applaud you for seeking these films out and promoting them. But why does every laudatory posting come with the predictable salvo aimed at Disney and Pixar? Why does every post contain a grumpy rhetorical question?

    Artists (not critics or fans) will tell you it’s useless to goad an artist into being something he’s not. I won’t speak for Dreamworks, but Pixar seems to be making the films they feel inspired to make, and these films are growing in sophistication. Americans make american-style films because they grew up with them, they love them and they are inspired by them. As long as great varieties of foreign films are finding their way to American shores (thanks, John Lasseter.) who cares who made them?

  • Daniel

    you gotta realize that Japanese idioms don’t always translate well into other cultures… many of the subtleties and quirks found in Tekkon Kinkreet that may have double or even triple meanings are simply impossible to get across to American audiences even in a subtitled variation, with word play, the way words sound, what they imply and what they really mean can allow them to say many different things at the same time. Same with their visuals. What seems incoherent and incomplete and in turn a “bad” movie may simply be a case of context being lost in translation. Especially when a lot of what they present are trying to evoke specific feelings rather than any literal explanation or conventional storytelling.

    Also, for Japanese “genius” is just someone really really good at what they do. You could be the “genius” of taking out the garbage as far as they’re concerned. So don’t take it as something meant to be arrogant. Once again, cultural gaps.

  • Mike

    what about those of us who don’t live near dc? is there any news of a dvd release for them?

  • http://www.mnemesis.net Allison Westbrook

    Quite simply the baddest studio out there. Disney can go eat crow.

  • http://eggheadcheesybird.co.uk Alex

    Looks unmissable. I especially like the look of the first four or so featured in the trailer.

  • http://www.comicswithoutviolence.com/ Droop

    Nancy B: I think you are much too hard on Tekkon Kinkreet and Studio 4C. Also it sounds like someone hasn’t seen Mind Game or Noiseman Sound Insect at all. But go on and form your opinion anyways, I guess.

  • Marko

    Chuck R. wrote: “And (with all due respect to Miyazaki) it’s an American artform and no one does them quite like Americans.”

    And why should animation be something only Americans can specialize in? As far as I’m concerned it’s because of crap like Fantasia that we hardly get interesting compilations of shorts. All of the other animation festivals we have with stacked shorts consist of shorts from around the world, not just the US.

    Also it’s nice you name dropped Miyazaki, since he’s the only one who gets love in the US thanks to Disney’s distribution and the way people hang on to Lasseter’s every word. In truth Miyazaki isn’t that great or creative, neither is Lasseter. Studio 4C is a current studio dedicated to doing something different in an appealing accessible format, but they don’t get the kind of releases or respect here simply because they don’t get enough endorsement from American animators.

    But I guess bring on the next furry animal movie right? Experimentation and a change of subject matter is a joke, isn’t it?

  • Chuck R.

    Marko, you completely misunderstand me. I love to see this stuff promoted as much as anyone, and it should be seen here, whether on DVD, in artsy theatres or Cable TV. All I’m saying is why can’t good animation be championed without disparaging the kind that is most familiar to us?

    If there isn’t enough edgy animation being produced, the blame should go to the artists who love it, but aren’t going out on a limb to produce it. Why badger studios who seem perfectly happy making another type? It’s as pointless as criticizing NC Wyeth for not painting like Picasso.

  • amid

    Chuck R.: I didn’t notice any “predictable salvo aimed at Disney and Pixar” in this post. I simply pointed out the uniqueness of the project. If you automatically assume that any post praising another company’s work is anti-Disney or Pixar then you’re reading more into these posts than I am.

    For the record, the segments in Fantasia are not the visions of individual directors as the shorts in Genius Party are. Fantasia is filmmaking by committee…great filmmaking by committee in the original to be sure….but the distinction has to be made. Try naming off-the-top of your head the director of “The Pastoral Symphony” or “Nutcracker Suite” or any other segment in those films. I know I can’t. They are group productions with one man at the helm, Walt. Mind you, I have nothing against Fantasia. But the comparison of it to Genius Party couldn’t be more off.

  • Mark Gilson

    Studio 4°C is a fantastic studio that pushes the boundaries of what we think of as Japanese animation. These guys have always done what they wanted, and always produce something interesting and unique. Definitely worth checking out.

  • Andrew W. Laubacher

    Alllow me to note that Studio 4°C is also one of the studios contributing to Batman: Gotham Knight, the prequel to this summer’s The Dark Knight, which will released on DVD in June, 2008.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    Wait there are TWO Genius Party films? Superb!

    Can’t wait to see them!

    In the meantime I guess I’ll amuse myself reading the usual screed of ill-informed and vaguely xenophobic comments which people with no apparent interest in, or understanding of, animation seem compelled to post on any animation blog daring to mention the land of the rising sun. :)

  • http://dtoons-pro.com Alex Dudley

    I wish someone in America will make a movie like this.

    I think the problem with wide released animated films in America is that they aren’t experimental enough.

    I’m not saying we need our own Robot Carnival (god forbid), we just need to find a middle ground between experimental, artistic-vision content, and stuff the American audience wants to see.

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    …been waiting a long time for this to come out stateside.

  • http://www.j3d.com.au Josh

    Me too Aaron, it’s been way WAY too long since this was released in Japan for it to make it to the western audience (I’m Australian) I’m hanging out for the DVD and possibly BlueRay release as something this different will never see a theater release in this country.

  • Joshua Smith

    Chuck R, I think you’re reading too much into Amid’s commentary. His rhetorical questions aren’t there to criticize specific American studios but rather to point out the unique situation in Japan that allows a studio like Studio 4°C to flourish. The fact of the matter is there are currently no animation studios here in the states that have been able to run a successful business by producing such unapologetically experimental work as Studio 4°C. Sure, in the past there have been studios like UPA and Storyboard, but things have changed quite a bit since those days. There are a few reasons why a studio like this can succeed in Japan while it probably couldn’t in the US under current conditions.

    First, animation production in Japan is much more efficient monetarily. You get more bang for your buck. You don’t have an overabundance of executives with exorbitant salaries. Your animation is probably produced in-house, or maybe outsourced to a nearby Japanese studio, and this maintains higher quality than outsourcing overseas. You can end up getting expensive-looking animation for only a fraction of what similar animation would cost to produce in the states. Steamboy cost $26 million to make, a ridiculously overblown production cost by Japanese standards, but in the US that pricetag won’t even get you something like Curious George (I’m only comparing the production values of the two films, not their value as films). Of course the flip side is that the average salary of a Japanese animator is much lower than that of an American animator, and many of them struggle to live in an expensive city like Tokyo.

    Studio 4°C doesn’t produce experimental films exclusively–they’re also a boutique studio that provides animation for films from other studios. This provides an extra source of income to spend on more experimental work that’s more of a financial risk. In the US, larger studios are more likely to resort to cheaper overseas outsourcing. So whatever boutique studios remain here are likely struggling just to stay afloat on commercial work, much less having enough extra income to risk on individual experimental projects.

    Finally, the Japanese film industry and its audience is much more niche-oriented than probably anywhere else in the world. In the American film industry, the market share is dominated by blockbuster-type films, while independent low-budget films are left with the scraps. Japanese audiences go for blockbuster films too, of course, but these are mostly American imports. Japan produces very few blockbusters of its own, even though about 40-50% of its box office revenues come from domestic films. This means that a very significant portion of the box office in Japan goes to a large number of domestic films rather than just a few blockbusters. So the Japanese industry has focused on splitting into literally dozens of niche genres, most of which are unique to Japanese cinema. Experimentation has much more potential to pay off in Japan than it does in the US, and that’s what Studio 4°C is hoping for.

    On to Genius Party itself, it goes without saying that I’m very excited to see it and I wish I could be in DC for the premiere. I believe it was originally intended as a single movie, but as more directors signed on they decided to split it in two.

    Concerning Shinya Ohira, he’s certainly a very talented and influential animator, not to mention his work is always highly individualistic and easy to recognize. Some might argue that, like Jim Tyer, his animation stands out a bit TOO much. But Ohira is a better draughtsman than Tyer, and a better observer of motion (though I think Tyer was better at inventing new kinds of motion). Ohira does the kind of animation that many people seem to mistakenly assume must be rotoscoped, because the motion is so “realistic.” But it’s more of an impressionist realism that gets at the heart of the motion, while the drawings themselves are highly deformed or stylized. What I like best about his animation, though, is that it completely obliterates any distinction between character animation and effects animation (Ohira started out as an effects animator). An ocean wave and a dancing man are both moving objects–why should one movement take precedence over the other?
    Here are some good examples of his work in an anime music video someone made: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3rJCPFqKRI

  • Billy Batz

    The title is right, they are geniuses!! If the U.S. tried something like this now they would have to title it Average Party! Maybe Jerry Seinfeld could come up with something cool since we seem to be out of inspiration these days.

  • amid

    Joshua: A wonderful intelligent post. Great points throughout, I really enjoyed reading it.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    At the beginning of this thread I posted an intentionally flippant, provocative remark which Amid (quite rightly) declined to publish because it was – well, intentionally flippant and provocative.

    But what seems to have happened, is that Amid’s own lengthy, considered, informative and balanced posting has attracted the same reaction, as might have my own release of vitriol.

    The lesson here is that it will happen regardless. Confronted with something beautiful, new and revolutionary, some peoples automatic response will always be to leap to the defense of their own beloved dogma, even when no attack was intended or suggested.

    I guess theres just too much unlearning to be done. I guess there are still some prog-rock musicians who still don’t understand what befell them when punk happened. Makes me sad.

    And as for the use of the term Genius. Cultural misunderstanding or not, I think after decades of enduring Disneys grammaticaly incorrect abuse of the word ‘Classic’ slapped over every single film they release, that I’m prepared to accept 4oC declaring their own genius!

  • http://www.cementimental.com Tim Drage

    Anyone thinking “Genius Party” is a silly or audacious name should bear in mind that another upcoming Japanese compilation of short films is titled AMAZING NUTS.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    What Joshua Smith had said about those differences between Japanese and American studios is how I view it as well. I only wish we had a studio like 4C here that did that sort of thing year after year and be as reputable for it, perhaps encouraging others to do similar projects outside major commercial work. It’s all economics in the end that sums up why it is the way it is.

  • compn

    i love studio 4c’s stuff. especially the short ETERNAL FAMILY . mind game is really really good, animation and story wise. a rare thing indeed in the animation world. wish i could be there at the premiere.

    no one has mentioned the ANIMATRIX? seems like a good contender for the list. funded by a major us studio, with different directors.

  • http://e-9.deviantart.com Edel

    there was only 3 shorts in animatrix worth buying the dvd for though. Beyond, Kids Story and World Record… the rest are kind of “eh” though its always nice to see new stuff from Peter Cheung… The name of the one he did escapes me.

    I went with of friend of mine to this premiere. AMAZING stufff. The one that looks like conte crayons with the dog.. animation style ive never seen before.. it was pretty spastic and made me dizzy but i absolutely loved it!