Tag Archives: Shinichiro Watanabe

CAPSULE: GENIUS PARTY (2007)

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DIRECTED BY: Hideki Futamura, Yuji Fukuyama, Shoji Kawamori, Shinji Kimura, , Masaaki Yuasa

FEATURING: Various voice actors

PLOT: Six short animated films from different directors associated with Japan’s Studio 4ºC.

COMMENTS: There’s no better way to enjoy the Christmas/Saint Stephen’s/Saint John’s/Holy Innocent’s holiday run than to nestle back with coffee and cartoons, so I kicked up my heels and dove deep into a very fine collection of anime wonderments (as well as a mixed metaphor). Each entry in this 2007 anthology gets its own paragraph.

“Shanghai Dragon” – dir. by Shoji Kawamori

Somehow the fate of humanity rests in the snot-covered hands of 5-year-old Gonglong when a mysterious, magical piece of chalk is crash-delivered to his schoolyard. “Shanghai Dragon” playfully riffs on the Terminator premise, showcasing the likely whimsicality if mankind’s savior were a very, very young boy. Kawamori’s short is, in a way, straight-up action anime, including a cybernetically enhanced, cigar-smoking badass; killer robots; hundreds of explosions; and a giant AI-controlled dog robot. But it’s also one of the cutest cartoons I have ever seen.

“Deathtic 4” – dir.  Shinji Kimura

Four young school friends plot to save a (live) frog that was somehow transported to their (zombie) planet by the hazardous Uzu-Uzu weather event. While “Shanghai Dragon” was cute, “Deathtic 4” (presumably the planet’s name) is one of the ickier cartoons I’ve seen—but it still immolated me in a fire-wall of charm. The quartet inhabits a sicklier variant of ‘s “Halloween Town“, and are all losers (despite three of them claiming “super powers”). The Zombie Police discover the living froggy, they sound the alarm–via a detachable siren nose that turns out to be one of those “moooo” canisters. The lads then flee toward the MASSIVE cyclone, Uzu-Uzu, with a plan ripped from a Garbage Pail Kids’ E.T.

“Doorbell” – dir. by Yuji Fukuyama

Fukuyama’s short is by far and away the most cryptic of the bunch, but that isn’t what made it my least favorite—or maybe it is. My suspicion is the director is attempting a philosophical exercise concerning infinite realities, all variants centered around one focal point: in “Doorbell”s case, that of a young man whose versions of himself keep splitting off and cutting him off from future paths. Neat, and pleasantly understated—and as such, feels a little out of place here.

“Limit Cycle” – dir. by Hideki Futamura

Playing like a cyber-theological TED talk, Futamura’s short lacks narrative and characters, but is the most fascinating entry. Its layered visuals, which combine classic animation, computer animation along with symbolic numbers, images, and math, are lush and hypnotic—prompting me to sorely regret my lack of fluency in Japanese, as my eyes had to stay anchored to the persistent subtitles to have any grasp of what was going on. Beautiful to behold while raising many profound philosophical points.

“Happy Machine” – dir. by Masaaki Yuasa

Humanistic allegory meets wacky animation in this short. The story begins with a happy infant (whimsical mobile above his bed, toys lining shelves, loving mother approaching to feed him) whose reality is sucked away, forcing him on a strange journey through a wasteland. Animation itself is deconstructed as its artifice collapses along with the infant’s home—and that’s just one of the dozen or so dissections of life, etc., that Yuasa performs with his singular ‘tooning style.

“Baby Blue” – dir. by Shinichiro Watanabe

Boy is going to be moving away from his school–and his girl-crush–and so suggests that he and she cut class and head out. To anywhere. Those seeking a melancholic musing on maturation may find this quite satisfying. While it lacks the temporal/scientific/divine themes of its fellow entries, I wasn’t unhappy about its inclusion, particularly the scene where the boy busts out a grenade (acquired, against the odds, in a wholly believable manner) to fend off a gaggle of ’50s throwback goons.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the average level of quality is staggeringly high… If you have any love for animation as a medium of art, I cannot recommend this collection enough.”–Ard Vijn, Screen Anarchy (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Wormhead,” who described it as “pretty weird. It’s a series of mind-blowing anime shorts, specially the short ‘Happy Machine.'” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

 

CAPSULE: COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE (2001) [BLU-RAY]

AKA Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

DIRECTED BY: Shinichirô Watanabe

FEATURING: Voices of , Unshô Ishizuka, , Aoi Tada (Japanese version); Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, Melissa Fahn (English dub)

PLOT: Based on the popular anime series, the film brings the core bounty hunting teamtogether for another mission, while adding a few new characters involved in an experimental super soldier program and a deadly virus outbreak on Mars.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: For the most part, Cowboy Bebop is straight sci-fi, notable for its stellar animation, eclectic soundtrack, and fascinating characterization.  It’s got a few strange bits—especially the character of “Ed”, an androgynous child hacker who speaks in nonsense—but nothing especially out of the ordinary, especially in the world of anime.

COMMENTS: As a television series, Cowboy Bebop was a mix between comedy and drama, action and mystery, single-story episodes and an overarching plot.  Released after the initial 26-episode run, the film takes place sometime before the end of the show, and can stand on its own as a film for anyone unfamiliar with the series.  The titular “Bebop” is a spaceship that serves as home and headquarters to a bounty hunting crew.  Spike Spiegel is a laid back but highly skilled fighter with a shady past; Jet Black is a gruff and sometimes fatherly former cop; Faye Valentine is a wily, scantily-clad con artist with a gambling addiction; Ed is a brilliant and fanciful young hacker.  Of course there’s also Ein, their fluffy “data dog.”  While chasing after a low-level bounty on Mars, the crew stumbles upon a sociopathic killer and his massive plot to infect the planet with a new kind of virus.

The dynamics of the group (always shaky as it is) are explored as each goes off on his or her own mission at various points, chasing down personal leads and hunches.  Spike and Faye are content to be on their own, while Jet and Ed hope for a more familial camaraderie.  New characters Vincent—the soliloquizing killer with a tragic past–and Electra—a government agent with impressive martial arts skills and questionable motivations—further the film’s investigation of isolation and outcasts  The city they explore (the capital of Mars) is packed with crowds preparing for a big Halloween festival, but our protagonists wander alone through the throngs with the weight of the world on their shoulders, adding occasional philosophical and mystical mutterings.  Well, all except for Ed, who seems content to hop around dressed as a pumpkin.

The story is solid, combining mystery and crime drama with thrilling action sequences and a dash of comedic relief.  The animation is gorgeous and incredibly fluid, with exciting fight scenes and high-speed chases (usually involving a space vessel) packed with R-rated violence . The colors vary from soft to bold, with hazy backgrounds and intricate settings that include fun futuristic details and references to antique technology.  The sharp HD upgrade is a welcome sight after the TV-quality Cartoon Network reruns that introduced Cowboy Bebop to many American fans.  Aside from the luscious visuals, the film features a truly kickin’ soundtrack from inimitable composer Yoko Kanno.  The combination of syncopated jazz, kooky soul, and thumping rock perfectly suits the story’s changeable tone and offbeat pacing.

So it’s not weird, especially not by sci-fi anime standards, but Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (also known as Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door) is a fun and involving film for longtime fans and curious newcomers alike.  It’s a little overlong but never boring, and the impressive action, set pieces, and ultracool characterizations are enough to keep everyone entertained!

BLU-RAY INFO: Unfortunately there are no special features for the US Blu-ray release. It’s a beautiful high-def transfer (1080p/AVC- encoded image), with Linear PCM 2.0 stereo sound. There’s a Japanese and English track (the English dub uses the same voice actors from the series, which I always liked).  Honestly, I think the visual upgrade is enough of a reason for fans to check this out on Blu.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This switched-on futuristic anime noir is visually stunning — and it makes a lot more sense than ‘Spirited Away’!” –Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com