Reviewby Luke Carroll, Aug 25th 2009
This is Genius Party. 7 impacts by 7 directors.
The flagship release from groundbreaking animation outfit STUDIO 4c, the concept is both stunningly simple and utterly original: Gather an all-star team of contemporary Anime creators, mixing established legends with the brightest up-and-comers. Give each one free reign to make an entirely original film, providing only a single guiding theme: The Spirit of Creativity.
The result is a kaleidoscope of visions, stretching from the inner depths of the human mind to the most fantastic, astounding worlds of boundless imagination spanning a rich palette of unique visual languages.
Short film collections are certainly not a new concept in the anime world. The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight both showed us in the past that there was quite an appeal to seeing numerous directors—both famous and otherwise—coming together under one the banner for a short display of their talents. Genius Party very much follows this same concept albeit with one major difference, Studio 4C decided not to give the directors a theme to work on, allowing them complete freedom to create whatever they could imagine. What results from this is a dubious mix of seven short films that will leave you feeling both amazed and quite puzzled as each director displays their talents in an almost abstract manner to each other.
The first of the seven short films is the rather aptly named Genius Party. Acting as the introduction and directed by veteran animator Atsuko Fukushima, the film features a rather odd bird and its quest to eat the hearts that spawn out of a number of happy faced clay heads who litter the land. Although the piece is rather short, it certainly sets the bar with its combination of unique visuals and jungle style background score creating a film that is much easier to sit back and enjoy rather than explain.
Next up is Shanghai Dragon, another unique piece directed by Macross famed Shoji Kawamori that tells the story of an imaginative child who comes into possession of a futuristic device that can bring drawings to life. Although the animation work is much more conventional when compared to its preceding title, the film still manages to be just as impressive with a number of adrenaline filled actions scenes and well thought out humour keeping the viewer glued to the screen. Despite narrowly clocking in as the longest title of the lot, Shanghai Dragon is certainly one of the most well rounded films in the collection.
The third film in line is Deathtic 4, a rather mixed affair directed by Shinji Kimura that tells the story of a zombie boy's quest to send an undead frog back to the living world before he is caught with it. While it is hard to mark the film down for being the most unique in its visuals department, the dark Tim Burton inspired world and rather unnatural CGI designs will certainly be off putting to a few anime fans. The story itself doesn't carry the same impact seen in the earlier titles but it still manages to be a fun but inconsequential romp.
Unfortunately things start taking a downwards turn in the fourth film Doorbell. Directed by manga artist Yoji Fukuyama, this simple short film tells the story of a boy who gets himself entangled in a cat and mouse game with his own doppelganger. I should say attempts to tell the story because there is very little meaning given over anything that occurs on screen, leaving the whole experience feeling rather hollow. This is only compounded more so by the less than brilliant animation and slow pacing.
The fifth film Limit Cycle doesn't do itself much in the way of favours either. Depending on your view, this intellectual piece directed by Hideki Futamura will either have you praising its uniqueness and deep narration or reaching for the remote to skip through it as quick as possible. Unless you like your deep intellectual pieces, don't be surprised if you find yourself lost after the first minute as the never ending narration soon becomes an incoherent ramble that almost feels like its going in circles at times. Although the visuals are rather intriguing in an abstract manner, you'll find yourself ignoring them completely at times as you try to keep up to speed with the monotonous phrases that are constantly being spurted by the main character. Interestingly, there is a second version of the film accessible in the chapters area that forgoes the ear bleeding narration and keeps the abstract visuals and sounds, creating an almost entirely new experience within itself.
Things start to look back up in the sixth film Happy Machine. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, this short tells the story of a baby who is suddenly forced from the security of his nursery and onto a strange alien world. With no one to look after him, the baby soon finds himself making new friends and heading on a bizarre and humourous adventure across the land. Its mix of odd visuals and a well thought out multilayered story makes this surrealist film one of the highlights in the collection.
Bringing us to a close is the seventh and final film Baby Blue. Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, this slice of life story covers the journey of two childhood friends who have since grown apart over the years. Although the film itself plays out rather nicely, the time constraints certainly affect the impact that the story could have really delivered. Despite this, Baby Blue still manages to be a solid well thought out piece that rounds out the film collection nicely.
Siren Visual have certainly gone the hard yards with this release in terms of packaging and extras. The dvd case is just as imaginative and weird as the title itself, not only featuring a rip tab at the base in order to open it, but a removable back and front strip to allow a much neater and logo free design to show though. Although the first disc contains a trailer for Genius Party, the meat of the extras are on the second disc where we are given a series of interviews with all the directors involved and a collection of seven more additional short films belonging to the winners of an international 'Next Genius' competition Studio 4C held.
Genius Party is at times an interesting and rather fun film to watch. Depending on your views, it can also be a rather dubious experience with some very uneven pieces and a large amount of time devoted to unfulfilling half formed ideas. However every anthology has its share of duds, and Genius Party's more exceptional pieces are strong enough to carry it past the line of being a complete failure and into a title that is certainly worth checking out. Siren Visual have done an amazing job with this release, and I for one cannot wait to see just how well they tackle its sequel due in a few months.
Overall : B
+ The opening films are well done, some very fun and interesting segments
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