Friday, June 27, 2008

REVIEW: Genius Party Beyond (2008)

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

I'm still relatively new to Japanese animation. I haven't strayed too far from the top names of Miyazaki, Takahata and Kon and haven't delved into the multi-part series that take complicated story arcs to new heights. I've seen enough to make me want to delve further, but I've still really only scratched the surface of the volumes of anime that exist - the gorgeous visual representations of nature, the dystopic visions of the future and what I can only guess to be scenes of wandering travels through the charred remains of minds coming apart.

Studio4°C dabbles in all of the above and have put together a couple of anthology films to display their work. Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond are rarely screened outside of Japan, but both were at this year's Worldwide Short Film Festival. I managed to catch the second of them a week ago Thursday and was lucky enough to hear filmmaker Shinichiro Watanabe give some opening remarks. For him, hand drawn animation is still the real true art form and is much preferred to CGI. It's a debatable point, but what isn't in question was his statement that Genius Party Beyond was, to paraphrase, very non-thematic in content.

The creativity and imagination present in all 5 of the films in this particular anthology is quite incredible and indescribable. I couldn't always follow the stories or completely get their intent, but I was pretty much consistently stunned. Here's a rundown of the five different sections of the film:

1. Gala - Walking out of the theatre with Thomas Silver he wondered if perhaps this story was actually supposed to be called Gaia - it would've been much more apropos. The closest of the bunch to the "Miyazaki" style of anime, the story takes place in a world of mostly human characters who have a deep relationship with nature. When a massive oval object crashes to the ground, the community fear and attack it but later come to embrace and help it. But what's the scale of this visit by an unknown object? A lovely film with very expressive use of music.

2. Moondrive - Apparently colonizing the moon may not be such a great idea after all. We'll just screw that place up too. Crashing through the bowels of a run down city on the satellite, a gang of petty thieves are in search of a treasure. Whether they find it or not seems hardly the point. 'Anarchic' would seem to be a tailor made description for the action that takes place in this story and for much of the animation as well - it's a harsher style with more angles and rough edges, but it perfectly suits the story and characters. A bit mixed for me as some of the storyline was amusing and some of it was repetitive.

3. Wanwa The Doggy - Headache inducing. The festival web site states "Words fail utterly" and I suppose that's correct if you were trying to describe the events that the animators were trying to depict. But it's a little boy's dream world, so I guess you should just let it roll over you and see where it takes you. Given that, words don't fail me: "Ugly", "Slap-dash", "A mess", "Who spilled the paint on your cells?", "Is it over yet?".

Oh, and "Headache inducing".

4. Tou Jin Kit - Fortunately , the follow-up film was my favourite. It covers some well trodden ground - a depressing, colourless, Big Brother style future - but it does so in subtle ways and takes its time in setting up one young girl's existence. What are those creatures she's hiding in the dolls? Beats me, but the "police" certainly don't want them and their rainbow paisley patterns to infect society any further. Sharp and detailed animation helped make this the highlight of the anthology for me.

5. Dimension Bomb - I have no idea what I saw here. There were some spectacular moments and images that are unquestionably from highly creative minds (particularly that floating body wandering all over the place), but it all seemed...random. That's not necessarily bad - stream of consciousness style stories can still be entertaining - but while this certainly had its moments, it frankly tired me out...

Strangely enough, there was a vague common thread between all the films - they were all representations of worlds that can currently only exist in our imaginations. The inspiration and creation of those worlds though, can currently only come from a very special subset of imaginations.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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