Friday, February 15, 2008

Genius Party

The fairly new (It's been out in Japan for a few months) anime anthology Genius Party made its US premiere at the Kennedy Center a few hours ago, and I was lucky enough to be there. Shinichiro Watanabe (AKA director of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and the detective segment of The Animatrix), who directed the last segment, showed up and talked about the film before the screening, with the help of a translator. I grinned like crazy when, instead of exiting the room, he went and sat down three seats next to me and watched with the rest of us.

Genius Party is a treat. It is a great display of creativity and variety, in the vein of classics like Robot Carnival. I have a feeling that whenever the U.S. is able to get a widespread look at it (either through limited release or a DVD), it will be quite popular. Now for a look at each short and my thoughts:

Genius Party (Intro Short)
An abstract and engaging short. A field full of head-shaped rocks, many glowing hearts, and an odd-looking bird at the beginning make up a barely cohesive story, but the visuals and music are compelling, getting more and more intense as it goes on.

Shanghai Dragon
A shy, bullied little boy finds solace in chalk doodling on the walls and floors, and everything changes when he discovers an odd glowing pen that makes everything he draws a reality. But this is not an unexplained mystical object- it's a secret weapon developed by a far-off alien planet at war, and it must be recovered before the enemy gets it first.

This is definitely one of the better shorts. It is engaging, gorgeous, funny, and fast-paced, with some amazing action sequences and clever visuals. The ending, though, feels a little abrupt.

Deathtic 4
The only short done in 3D CGI, and the visual style is perfect for it. In a bizarre gothic world of zombies and odd creatures that feels like the lovechild of Tim Burton and Jhonen Vasquez, a zombie boy leaves for school only to be shocked by a frog falling out of the sky- not just any frog, but one that's actually alive. He discovers a team of three misfits who know of a way to return the frog to its own world, and they set out on a wacky ride in a shopping cart while chased by small red policemen who talk through cans that make cow noises and ride tricycles. (No joke.)

A definite favorite, the visual design is excellent and the overall short very engaging and funny, despite a few fart jokes. If the characters were ever to be merchandised, Hot Topic would be all over them.

Door Bell
The middle of the road short, both in order and quality. A young Japanese man inexplicably has a double come out of him, who begins to take over his life by somehow causing him to vanish from sight and sound for his family and friends. Eventually, he is still able to contact her girlfriend, and heads to her in hopes that the double will not beat him there.

After the craziness of the previous shorts, this one is down to earth despite the odd story. There's nothing that stands out about it, but it's an entertaining diversion and a fun watch overall. Not so much...

Limit Cycle
A guy who seems to be a living hologram stands still and looks around as random people and computerized images dance around him, while monolouging endlessly about God, the soul, technology, and other stuff. There is no true plot to the short.

This is junk. There is not much to gain from the dialogue, which is more pretentious than insightful, and the image rush soon becomes repetitive. It's a real chore to sit through, but thankfully it's the only stinker in the bunch.

Happy Machine
Though also abstract and with very little plot, Happy Machine avoids the problems of Limit Cycle and focuses on visual wonders and little else. A baby is inexplicably in a room where he is nursed by a robot made of monitors displaying a live action girl, but that breaks down, and the room soon falls apart. The baby finds himself in a bizarre world, sparse and stylized. He curiously explores the world, making friends with creatures and discovering new and exciting things.

Entertaining and endearing, the baby is both animated and voiced in a very appealing manner, and you grow to care for the creatures he befriends as well. Though the animation style is simplistic, a lot of emotion is brought out of it, not to mention a creature walk straight out of a 1920s 'rubber hose' cartoon. The ending is ambiguous, but not in a sense that will make the viewer feel cheated and abruptly cut off.

Baby Blue
Feeling ambitious, a male student decides to skip school and invites a friend who is a girl to wander about the city for the day. They screw up a subway trip and have to get home the long way, and some interesting events happen that result in both their return home and a last conversation that reveals a bit more of their personal lives and feelings for each other.

Watanabe described Baby Blue before the movie with a single phrase, "Genius Party is a feast, and you can consider Baby Blue the dessert."The final segment stands out in that it is the only completely down-to-earth segment in a movie dominated by the fantastic, but this does not have an effect on its quality. Character and vehicle animation is very nice, the voice acting is great, and Watanabe's directing style shines through. My only real gripe with the film is that it feels like it saves all of the character development until the end, but it still manages to have a touching final scene.

Overall, I highly recommend seeing Genius Party whenever you get the chance. It is not limited to anime fans in terms of enjoyment, as it also can appeal to arthouse film fans, artists in general, and probably stoners. Go see it.