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My latest indie Japanese animator discovery is Satoshi Murai. In 2009, one year after graduating from the Graphic Design Department of Tama Art University, he animated a beautiful, dreamy music video for the song A Play by Japanese alternative electro-hop outfit ALT (ALT home page).
It's a ravishing video that doesn't scream "music video" the way most do. It comes across more like a visual poem. I didn't even realize it was a music video until after looking into it.
The video begins with a woman's voice saying, "There are an infinite number of worlds over here, over there, and inside you. But they're also nowhere. The curtain will soon fall. The journey will soon end. It's time for bed."
In a city somewhere in the world, a child is tucked into bed in. This soft, faint scene from our plane of reality then fades out, and the screen explodes into color as a bubble floats up and bursts into a dream-creature that's half television/half beetle. A male voice launches into a rambling, monotone recitation of disjointed poetic images, and the visuals echo his strange words and rhythm, morphing between abstract and identifiable forms. It's like we're witnessing the ether from which the images of dreams are created as our brain pieces together the shards of our everyday experiences into a bizarre visual collage.
Like the words, the hazy images morph quick and fast and create an intoxicating experience that evokes the fertile, poetic creativity of the brain as it cooks up dreams at night. "Nobody remembers the beginning. It's dark outside now. That day I lost something and I gained something in exchange." Sometimes the images directly mirror the words, other times go on their own trajectory: A coffee thermos hovers in mid-air pouring coffee, and morphs into the eye and beak of a bird. A fish runs with human legs. A black and white TV shows a flickering image of a pair of trousered legs walking. For just a second we catch a glimpse of a house hidden in the trees at dusk.
The video feels so unlike a regular music video because of the abstract song. Rather than a catchy pop song, it's a glitchy wash of ambient synths through which a voice swims in a monotone random-walk recitation of playfully alliterating, randomly rhyming chockablock phrases that evoke disjointed images. It's the Japanese answer to alternative hip-hop bands like Clouddead. The visuals and audio are a perfect match with one another, neither making sense but both seeming to make sense together.
The visuals occasionally remind me of Gianluigi Toccafondo, with broad splotches of paint tracing distorted renderings of familiar objects that transform into other objects by stretching and warping. But A Play is far more varied and flexible in its technique and texture. It isn't exclusively produced by painting over and transforming live-action images the way Toccafondo's work seems to be. It switches between very broad abstract painted strokes and more minutely detailed traditional animation, such as the moment where ants are meticulously drawn milling about in a grayscale pencil cross-section of the sleeping boy's head.
As it turns out, Satoshi Murai himself is part of the ALT collective, and he either did or helped with the music of this video. He also does his own solo music. Satoshi Murai's Soundcloud page features the same brand of pleasingly glitchy ambient electronica. So he's an animator-musician, like Ryu Kato. The ALT collective have a number of other visually interesting music videos available on their home page.
I don't know if Satoshi Murai is still part of ALT, but he's currently part of another collective - the Tymote collective, an 8-member group that does cutting edge creative work in motion graphics, illustration and music. You can see more work like A Play in the Palm station ID that Satoshi Murai did at Tymote for the 24-hour music station Space Shower TV. Explore Tymote's home page to see more of the outstanding visual inventiveness of this group.
Like most animators working today, Satoshi Murai has a twitter feed.
A remarkable new animated music video for Wagon Christ's track Chunkothy is a 3-minute headlong journey through a bewildering array of everchanging abstract yet symmetrical transformations. The video for Ninja Tune comes courtesy London-based Nexus Productions. The director and animator and mastermind behind the film is Celyn Brazier, who has just uploaded the video to his Vimeo account. Watch it now here.
Then you can go to Celyn's own web site and spend some happy moments browsing through a collection of some of his remarkable, retro-styled but utterly original illustrations. I'm kind of reminded of Manabe Hiroshi with the whole retro-futuristic vibe with clean lines and flat colors and delightful bending of lines and body shape vectors. I'd love to have a huge poster of one of those illustrations on my wall. There's a carnal pleasure in the way those sharp meandering lines slash white space from solids.
About the video, this amazing piece of 2D animation was created in Photoshop. The timing with the music is great, and there's so much detail in there I can imagine spotting something new every time. Apparently it took 6 weeks to make and was inspired in some regard by a certain Norman McLaren film.
I just discovered Takuya Inaba's Minna no Uta video from this summer for actress Juri Ueno's song Egao no Hana (The Smile Flower).
It's a delightful piece of animation, befitting an artist working at Robot, the studio that gave us Kato Kunio's Oscar-winning House of Small Cubes. They're one of the coolest new studios on the scene in Japan, doggedly going their own way in the vast shadow of the industry, making colorful, lovingly animated, creative little confections. Their films have a sense of wonder and whimsical fancy that sets them apart from every other studio in Japan.
I love this film's unique style. And it's sumptuously animated, unlike many Minna no Uta animated videos, which often aren't satisfying as animation. The characters are great - the designs are cute and appealing, and they're animated with great care. The domino sequence at the beginning is amusing and well done. The backgrounds are beautiful - early on the street looks like a child's drawing, and later on the forest is painted in bright, colorful strokes.
Then there are the little touches here and there that are unexpected and fun like the faucet in the sky that fills the ocean with water, and those little round guys walking on the fence having their own mini parade. There are strangle little characters doing things everywhere you look. And I just love the television cat with the chicken family inside.
I like the story of the film, too. The sun, the moon and a cloud come alive to help take a lost fairy back to her flower house. Behind the colorful fantasy, it's about cheering up a little girl who's feeling down in the dumps and making that 'smile' flower bloom.
Takuya Inaba was born in 1976 and graduated from the Kyoto Seika University Faculty of Design. He has been active as an animator since at least 2001, when he made an independent film called Haru-chan. He was hired by Robot in 2002, presumably on the merit of his film. Since then he's been quite active making short pieces of animation here and there on commission, as well as drawing picture books and other things.
He had already made a Minna no Uta music video in 2006 with Koi Tsubomi, which again has two layers - the song appears to sing of a girl who had to leave her boyfriend for the big city, while this is translated in the visuals into a little girl being seen off at a train station by her polar bear friend. The visuals are soft and mellow and pleasant, but it's not as creative and original as his most recent video.
The next year, in 2007, he directed a music video entitled Song of Sunrise for the band Sukima Switch. It shows a little girl and a hulking robot walking around in a desert landscape. I like the designs here much better, and the story is also quite interesting. It hints at a back story involving the robot either escaping from a robot city or being the only survivor, but doesn't make everything obvious. I like how it leaves it to your imagination to connect the dots.
Just before Egao no Hana, Takuya Inaba completed a 7-minute independent short film entitled Kuro. You can see a few shots from it on his home page. It's in black and white and appears to feature more fun creature animation like what was seen in Egao no Hana. Hopefully it's in the same vein as this film, but even more densely packed with nonsense antics from odd creatures, because this one left me wanting more of that sort of thing - something even crazier and more freewheeling, really letting loose with his unique style.
Cool beans. Charles Huettner, the guy who made a fan-made music video for Animal Collective's awesome song Water Curses that knocks the stuffing out of the boring official music video (and a great official one for DM Stith to another awesome song - he always animates awesome songs, which is better than making an awesome video to a song that sucks), says he's working on his first ever full-fledged Animated Short. Looking forward to that. He says he's got no schooling or much experience in 2D animation. And I friggin love his two music videos. How messed up is that? So I'm looking forward to it all the more. Some of the most refreshing animation I've seen has been from the unschooled. I think schooling can be good and bad. Charles talks about the process for making his great music videos on his blog too. Worth a read. And I love all the random crazy experimentation and stuff on his Vimeo account.
I watched the second episode of Trapeze and it was way better than the first one in my opinion, or at least better. They did a great job of focusing on the guy this time and digging deep into the root causes of his problem. Very funny and psychologically probing. Original script is really funny with its suggestive phrases, and kudos to translators of fansub for doing a good job conveying those in English. Though it's interesting how the whole basis of the story - his getting a permanent hard-on supposedly as some kind of post-traumatic reaction to his wife leaving him - seems undermined by the way the real-life doctor dude felt the need to interject to point out that such a thing in fact never has psychological roots. But whatever. At least they're honest! And you know what I'm warming to the use of real-life actors. They do it much more copiously here than in Kemonozume, so it feels like a different strategy, and I find that in this case it actually serves to make you relate to the character more. Who can relate to a drawing? I like that they're doing animation that kind of rejects itself at the same time.
To commemorate the first 200 vids posted on my Animated Music Videos blog in the first month, here's a pick of some of my favorite discoveries.
I'm particularly impressed by what's being done with digital imagery by artists like Lucio Arese, Aubo Lessi and Alex Rutterford. Aubo Lessi's video for Thomas Feiner & Anywhen's Siren Songs creates a beautiful blur of digital dots and blends the abstract with the human figure in a gorgeous way. It's familiar in technique but the end result is like nothing I've quite seen before. All of his other videos are extremely inventive visually, showing a mind constantly devising new visual schemes. Lucio Arese on the other hand uses digital environments to send you on an exciting roller-coaster ride brilliantly matched to the complex rhythms of the IDM, as in his video for Autechre's PlyPhon. Lucio Arese also did a video for a section of Bach's Goldberg Variations that is an effective use of animation to translate the various lines of polyphony at play in the score into the visual dimension. Alex Rutterford's video for Autechre's Gantz Graf, a bracing song of mind-blowing programming complexity and sonic richness, comes quite close to doing the song justice, and is interesting from a technical point of view, as he created the video partly by feeding an image of the sound file for the song into the animation program, so that the video stands at the intersection between animation in the conventional sense of each frame or movement being devised by the animator, and computer-derived animation. These videos all explode the music video genre and are consummate audiovisual creations.
Otherwise, the rest of the pieces I picked are all wildly varied in style, but are all creations that IMO exhibit the highest level of craftsmanship and creativity. Or to put it more simply: These are the ones that really wowed me, or I just found to be delightful creations. That's not to put down the quality of the other films in there. It's all worth going through, as honestly everything is interesting regardless of its caliber, and there are plenty of other videos of very high artistic caliber. Special Problems' video for Tame Impala is quite nice, for example, as is Marc Reisbig & Hanne Berkaak's video for Of Montreal, Josh Logue's delightful video for Architecture in Helsinki made entirely of animated stitchings, all of Sean Pecknold's videos, Yanni Kronenberg and Lucinda Schreiber's chalk animation video for Firekites, Pharrell Williams' video for Santogold et al, Laurent Gillot's video for Amadou et Mariam, and plenty of other videos that are great but probably more familiar because they've been publicized pretty widely on the internet lately, like the video for Oren Lavie's Her Morning Elegance, or the amazing new Shynola vid for Coldplay, etc etc....
Something I've always liked in animation is the notion of restrictions. Animation itself seems to impose certain inherent restrictions. Sometimes, more interesting results can be achieved when a set of restrictions are imposed. For example, the way Norman McLaren made a film entirely out of vertical lines scrolling back and forth. (AND one with just horizontal lines) Another example is Kiyoshi Nishimoto's Laughing Moon (2000), in which an entire short film is made by creative reconfiguration of a set of 12 blocks. I haven't been able to find the latter online, but it is available on a DVD from the British Animation Awards. I think having some sort of restriction maybe forces you to be more creative with the available materials, and also focuses the viewer's attention on that creativity by eliminating distractions. Pixel Film by Garth+Ginny is a cute, fun example of this. I like how they've managed to make an appealing film using (presumably) only 50x50 pixels. The material being restricted here is the information resolution. What's the smallest resolution at which a compelling film could be made?
This film is part of a wave of creative work being done in the 8-bit and 16-bit format, both in graphics and music. Stemming partly from nostalgia for the early video game culture of the Atari, Nintendo and other game systems of my youth, people all over the world today are using retro video game equipment to make videos and music, and making it available online for free in user communities like the 8-Bit Collective, which is one of the most vibrant user-driven artist communities I've run across. They are creating art that deliberately embraces the limitations imposed by antiquated technology. To some (including me), a significant part of the appeal of this music is nostalgia for the familiar clipped and pure sounds created by the microchips in these old technologies. Many of the creators active in the genre are too young to have experienced all that as kids, though. For them, and, I believe, most of the great artists working in the genre, called chiptune, it's more than that. Everyone is different, so the motivation of the people making the music is as varied as the music is, but I think one of the fundamental appeals of using retro equipment like this is the creative challenge of restriction; of having to use a limited range of channels and sounds to create a compelling piece of music. That, and the empowerment of appropriating a technology and re-visioning it towards your own creative ends.
I myself had of course heard a lot of chiptune music in my youth without realizing it, and have fond memories of those games and their soundtracks that transported me to faraway lands. Today's chiptune is a direct extension of the music of these games in sound, spirit and execution. There are a huge number of artists active, some of whom are of very high caliber. Even the stuff of lesser caliber is usually always enjoyable. There's something about the crisp, precise chiptune sound that makes the music always fresh and lively. The music itself is extremely varied, since we're talking about a method here and not a style(?). Some of it is peppy and melodic, some has a driving electro beat, some has fast complex rhythms, some constantly changing, some is a symphonic landscape. If you liked the music of Omodaka's Kokiriko Bushi, you might like to listen to some more chiptune. Omodaka is definitely near the top of the pile, but the chiptune community is huge and has many great artists, and it's constantly evolving. It feels like a music that's really fresh and in its prime.
I've become kind of scary-obsessed with the stuff ever since I discovered it through the music of Chinese chiptuner sulumi, two of whose albums I found in a music store in Beijing one year ago. To convey the extent of my scary-obsession, and hopefully spread the infection to others, I shall confer some of my acquired wisdom. Here are a few good places to start for anyone who likes this stuff and wants to hear more.
♦ Albums: Shnabubula's Controller 1 was the revelation of my chiptuned life.
A documentary on chiptune came out recently entitled Reformat the Planet, and right now I'm really hoping it will be coming to this year's Vancouver International Film Festival two months from now.
To close on a more OT note, I've been on the lookout for good chiptune music videos for months now, but I have yet to find one that is a true standout as a music video besides Omodaka's Kokiriko Bushi. The promo video for Saitone's Overlapping Spiral is one of the more decent ones I've found, while the video for
Goto80's Polycanyon is representative of the trend in the chiptune community to use 8-bit graphics to provide the video accompaniment to their music. Otherwise, I've found that most of the chiptune videos, like the one for Meneo's Papi, tend to be amusing but not that compelling as music videos.
I discovered the music of the Fleet Foxes recently, and found that they've got a stop-motion video set to one of their songs, White Winter Hymnal, directed by Sean Pecknold. Gorgeous music accompanied by a nice slow and simple concept for the visuals that winds out and then winds back in. Very pleasing. The calm, complentative puppet animation kind of reminds me of Tomoyasu Murata. There seem to be many people using animation for music videos these days... from Sarah Fimm to Chad VanGaalen to Omodaka to The Blue Seeds to Quantic... to say nothing of ones I've mentioned in the past like Cornelius. The rhythmic chiptune wickedness of Kokiriko Bushi in particular slays me, and the animation is rich and imaginative. The animation in a lot of other videos is honestly pretty crude and not interesting in itself, but when it matches the style of a song, the images come alive and the video works, as a number of the other vids attest, which is perhaps what makes music videos such a rich form. There's plenty of leeway for a more individual, analog, handmade approach that might not work elsewhere. I'm sure this is nothing and there are lots of other great animated music videos. Please feel free to share your own favorites.
Animated music videos almost seem to be enjoying a creative renaissance these days. A lot of bands seem to find the expressive playfulness and freedom of animation appealing, if the bounty of videos and things like the Radiohead competition are anything to go by. It's like they find the handcrafted, lo-fi appeal of indie animation a fit for their songs. Not to mention that it must be a lot cheaper, easier and quicker to just get an animator to make the visuals. Even not in animation, it's possible to create videos with visuals that make us see things in a new way with very little means and just an interesting approach, like Tone Twilight Zone, which has an Eames-like childlike wonder at the little things around us. Cornelius' videos are all pretty amazing in this sense, such as Point of View Point, which is very simple in execution and concept but creates a fantastic visual experience, and even is quite interesting conceptually, as an exploration of light, motion, perspective, how points becomes lines in motion, etc, and ties in to the very rich (but catchy and pulsing) sonic exploration of the music. There seems to be a music video for almost every song on Cornelius' masterpiece of an album Point, so they're all worth exploring. Smoke is interesting to note among these, as it's an obvious homage to two of the fathers (and as of yet unsurpassed masters) of all this music video business: Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren.
The video for Venetian Snares' Szamar Madar was a favorite of mine for a long time until a few years later I discovered it to be the work of a brilliant animator, David O'Reilly, whose Please Say Something was a shock to the system when I first ran across it a year or so ago - easily one of the most thrilling recent discoveries for me in animation. Szamar was the first time I'd seen visuals do justice to IDM (putting aside Rubber Johnny). I thought it was one of the crowning achievements in representing this kind of music in animation. O'Reilly's devious playfulness comes through in the film, too. Watch it in full screen to get the intended effect. There's nothing that quite matches the thrill and ecstasy when a piece of animation and a piece of music sync into a pure and unseparable unit of perfection like they do here.
Not really a music video per se, but more like an animated short in the form of a music video that really bowled me over and remains one of my favorite animated shorts of the last few years is Massive Swerve by Robert Valley, set to Massive Attack's Mezzanine. Robert is a brilliant illustrator in his own right, but as proven by the animation he did for Peter Chung's Riddick, he's also capable of putting those drawings together in the dimension of time to create some superb movement. The film's combination of smart and edgy design appeal with loose linework and spare but craftily applied animation creates a texture and tone unlike anything else out there. The dance scene is one of my favorite of its kind, using the strobe effect to depict the girl's wild gyrations with the rhythmic flashing of just a few stylishly exaggerated drawings. The pulsing, hypnotic downtempo anthem helps transform a film about a wild night at a rave party in Ibiza into something that feels like an epic descent into the bowels of a mythological netherworld.
I saw Animation Show 4 the other day. My first question was: Where's Don Hertzfeldt?? I'm sure it's been explained somewhere, but I didn't realize he wouldn't be there this time around. I wanted to see his new film. Without him, honestly, the selection was pretty thin and gimmicky, supported by almost no animation of any intrinsic worth as animation and falling dangerously close to a Spike & Mike's style fest of audience condescension with lowest-common-denominator outrage-appeal. I love Usavitch an all, and so did the audience, and I think it's great to get it seen by people. But some of the pieces on there... yeesh. Schwizgebel's Jeu was the only genuinely inventive and awe-inspiring piece there, which is ironically why it felt out of place. It's great to get audiences interested in animation. I know of a few people who saw the show who aren't into animation and who loved it. But it would also be nice to be able to do so by showing them a little more of the genuinely good work being done out there. This was a fun show for laughs, which is obviously all that Mike Judge was aiming for, so it seems kind of anal to pick on it for not trying to be something it's not. I was happy to see another piece by Luis Nieto, and again, that Schwizgebel piece reminded me why it is I love animation. Pure genius. Pes is also a really inventive animator. I like how he creates these really simple one-note punchline pieces but uses an odd new substrate to do the telling of the piece each time. What I really like about him is that he's doing inventive things with actual things, the way animators used to. I don't doubt that this selection represents US humor pretty well, but I refuse to believe that all US animators today think the only thing animation should do is gags, despite what some people seem to assert. I think audiences would have been far more satisfied with a little injection of depth and beauty here and there.
I suppose most other people have probably heard of Sally Cruikshank, an independent animator who created animation for a bunch of Sesame Street music videos during the 1980s, but I only discovered her work recently myself, and it threw me for a loop. I watched Sesame Street as a child, but only intermittently, so I don't ever recall having seen her work, and I'm sure I would remember if I had. Who could forget having seen a film like Face Like a Frog, an utterly insane and psychedelic, not to say psychotropic, fun-house ride of a short that's one of the best mind-trips I've seen in animation.
It's a visual orgy of non-stop transformation, with ideas zooming by at a mile a minute, hilariously matched to the great song. The colors are vivid and the forms wobbly and simple. I love the whole sensibility of the film, from the in-your-face colors to the technically limited but in this case tremendously effective animation. It's like the love-child of Masaaki Yuasa and Yasunori Miyazawa. The vivid and simple but brightly-colored designs plastered all over the screen are reminiscent of Yuasa's early Chibi Maruko-chan music videos, and the very wobbly and uncertain style of animation is similar in effect to the very deliberate and brutal distortions to be seen in Miyazawa's recent work.
You can see almost all of Cruikshank's films up on Youtube, where she herself has uploaded them, and if you like them enough, you can also go to her homepage and buy them on DVD. Her other films are quite fun and worth checking out, although none of them have quite the impact of the amazing Face Like a Frog - especially if it's the first piece by her that you see, as happened with me. There are some great independent animators who worked on NHK's Minna no Uta music video show, which in retrospect seems clearly to have been inspired by Sesame Street's example, but I've never seen anything quite this wild on the Japanese show.
Thanks to Stephen for writing about the web site Pleix, where you can see the incredible video "Birds", which is easily the coolest music video I've seen in a good while. Everything else I've sampled on there is without exception terrific and inspiring. Apparently the videos on there are the work of a Paris-based collective of artists of various persuasions.
Seems Genius Party is scheduled for two parts. The first part announced for this summer comprises seven shorts, conspicuously not including those of Shinya Ohira, Koji Morimoto, or Tatsuyuki Tanaka, three notoriously slow and maniacal animators. At least Masaaki Yuasa's and Atsuko Fukushima's pieces are in there. If I recall correctly, Yuasa's piece was in fact finished more than a year ago(?!). I was wondering how they were possibly going to fit all of those shorts into the span of a full-length feature. It makes sense that they'd split it in two. They've even already scheduled the world premiere for next February in New York.
Watched a bit of Bartender when it first came out and I actually really enjoyed it and thought it was a great example of "anime", in both the positive and negative connotations of the term. Positive in that it's amazing that they can create an entire series about the art of making cocktails, and negative in that it feels like you're just watching manga with a soundtrack. I've been getting into making cocktails recently, so maybe that helps too. I love how they manage to inject this vein or romanticism and fantasy into the whole idea of going to a bar and having a drink. Maybe it's a Japanese thing, or maybe I just don't frequent the right circles, but my image of bars and the people who go to them has been considerably less pretty, and rather more chintzy. Of course the real story here is undoubtedly how fascinating it is that animation in Japan is able to act as a bridge between customers and an industry that would normally be at the farthest end of sober associations with the medium of Disney. Manga has always been about anything and everything, and manga has always been a prime source of material for anime, so I guess there's nothing really new about it.
Watched the fan restoration of To-Y. First of all, bravo on a job well done to the restorers. That was breathtaking image quality. Oddly, as I began watching, I realized that I had in fact seen it long ago, even though I thought I'd never seen it. Deja vu indeed. I distinctly remembered the opening segments with those wonderful zooms, and especially the accompanying music. (Deja entendu?) Ahh, what joy to waft along on the torrent of suits with padded shoulders and narrow ties and large hair. The 80s. This anime really embodies the 80s seen through the lens of Japan, which oddly seems alarmingly like the 80s seen through the lens of MTV. Albeit therefore sometimes chuckle-inducing, it's still a finely crafted film of its period, a prime example of that OVA genre that flourished in the 80s and produced some real gems. The animation of Onda Naoyuki, who must have been fresh from Gundam ZZ, is undoubtedly one of his best achievements. For an 80s pop anime overdose, this would make a cool double-feature revival pairing with Bobby's Girl.
I finally had a chance to watch Studio 4C's latest project, Amazing Nuts!, and it was very interesting in a lot of ways, not least the actual shorts. But even moreso it was interesting to see how Studio 4C continues to come up with new approaches to creation and distribution. As producer Eiko Tanaka describes it, this project was about killing three birds with one stone: Each short is (1) a standalone music video, (2) a promo pilot for a series or film, and (3) part of a standalone DVD release. Rather than just making standalone shorts as they always have, here they're making a wise investment in their future by trying to tie in their shorts to a future project. I admire that Tanaka is willing to take a chance on a risky project like this. It seems to suggest a possible way for people in the industry to free themselves from the endless mire of having to adapt popular manga in order to get the backing to make anything. Give talented creators a chance to create original works like this and see the results. Use the talent that's there rather than relying so much on another unrelated field. Having seen the shorts, I can say that they are all interesting in their own way. Two are entertainment, one is artsy, one is for (weird) children. They each work as a unit, and each seem to have their own future potential. The two traditionally animated shorts are full of interesting ideas and are the obvious major candidates for future expansion. I could see those two becoming popular TV shows. Another aspect of Tanaka's gambit is directly involving fans by the DVD method, so that they can make their voice heard in terms of what they would like to see. I remember how the results of the online Mind Game questionnaire were directly applied to the DVD release.
I was also impressed by the DVD package. The set comes in two version, a basic version and a full version. The full version comes with a big book containing lots of interviews as well as the full storyboard for the two shorts that had a storyboard, and a long interview DVD. Personally I came into this almost solely to see Yasuhiro Aoki's film. I was very happy with Studio 4C for giving him the chance to make his own film, and was eager to see the result. The result did not disappoint, but I also came away with not just that but an interview with the man as well as his full storyboard for the film, so as a fan I couldn't be happier. Studio 4C obviously understands that, and created a package that is very rewarding to fans who truly love the act of creation that is animation, want to know more about its every step, and want to support their favorite creators. Connecting the creators to the fans in this way is one of the things I most like about Studio 4C. I remember Tadanari Okamoto talking about how a similar idea of tying fans into the creation-support loop.
As a producer, Tanaka appears to be starting to try to take more control of things. I get the distinct impression that she mistakenly blames the studio's director-centric approach for Mind Game's not having become a big hit (how could it have become a megahit playing in three theaters and nobody knowing it even existed?), and is trying to take a more active part in the projects now, as she did in the studio's recent Black & White film, where she had direct input into the film in the American style. This also feels the case here, where Tanaka's concept is the driving force. Nonetheless in each project we still get to see a talented creator's voice very clearly and distinctly expressed, so the studio's major appeal has thankfully not changed.
As for the films, the first thing that strikes you is that each short looks and feels nothing like any of the others. It doesn't feel like they're just changing the look and style in a narrow stylistic sense for variety's sake, but rather that each director's unique approach and the unique nature of the material give rise to a different set of production methods. That is also something the studio has been known for. One film might demand detailed CG set, one might demand intricate and lively cel animation, one might demand a blend of CG and live action. Interestingly, apparently this is just the first sally in the series, and several other shorts are in different stages of production at the moment.
I came in aware of only two of the creators working on this set - Yasuhiro Aoki and Daisuke Nakayama. I knew their films would be interesting, but wasn't sure about the rest. Glass Eye was an interesting poetic meditation that I liked because it felt distinct from anything else I've seen from the studio. A writer with no experience in animation was brought in to direct the film because they had liked the very visual nature of a script he had written. I've often felt that some of the more refreshing and unexpected approaches to animation have come from people with no experience in animation like this. The other film was a much more commercial full-CGI film about a diva, but even this I could see finding its own niche on morning TV. Daisuke Nakayama's film was a revelation about the man's vivid and assured style. We'd seen design work from him before, but it feels like this is what he's been really wanting to do the whole time - wild, fun, somewhat western-influence cartoony mayhem, like a hip-hop version of Imaishi. I could see this being popular in the west.
But by far the film that appealed the most to me, personally, was . It was a very accomplished film for a mere 10 minutes, full of the subtle humour and inventive directing I've come to expect from Aoki, with lots of excitingly choreographed and lovingly animated action, a very original approach to color full of radiant hues that make for consistently ravishing viewing, fun and catchy characters, a great story setup with lots of little subversive touches here and there courtesy of writer Shinji Obara, all of it gelling perfectly into compellingly unique whole that tantalizingly hints at a vast canvas that you come away hungering to know more about. Very successful both as a pilot and a short film. I hope we can see this hint of greatness given the chance to flower that it deserves. Apparently Aoki had in fact drawn enough storyboard and other background material to fill a full-length feature, but had to whittle all that down to a mere 10 minutes. I hope that one day we can see the full-length film that Aoki already had conceived fully-formed in his head. I could also see this working just as well as a TV series. Aoki has an intrinsically filmic approach - every shot is perfectly composed and thought out, every element of the screen communicates something interesting, and the rhythm is masterfully controlled. Aoki is a great entertainer. I could see him becoming a great director.
The timing and the forms of the animation in the short are also distinctive and hint at the huge amount of research and work Aoki obviously put into coming up with an original style of animation for the action that is at the heart of the film. Taking a hint from Hong Kong action flicks, the action shifts between very precise and fast action and extremely detailed and fluidly animated slo-mo shots that give the viewer a lingering and detailed look at the speedy moves that just flashed before our eyes. Testament to the effort that went into the animation is the fact that roughly 8000 drawings were used in the 10-minute film, which is about 5 times the volume of an average TV episode. I recall there was a slo-mo shot of Shiela cooking a pancake near the end of the last episodes of Tweeny Witches that Aoki did, #38, which in retrospect seems to point towards the slo-mo aesthetic in Kung-Fu Love. Aoki's surreal, somewhat meta sense of humor comes through pretty well in certain scenes, such as the scene where the two lovers argue in the ryokan. There's always an unexpected little amusing element somewhere livening things up. Sometimes he has a cunning strategy of tricking the viewer into focusing on a main action and then having something strange going on somewhere else on the screen, sort of in the spirit of the ball experiment by Daniel Simons. Revealing about Aoki's approach is a comment in the storyboard to the animator of the scene where the two lovers are sitting on the beach: "Put more effort into making the cat do things". We see the two protagonists sitting there without moving too much, but the cat is doing all these funny antics beside them. It's an intriguing method of hilighting the main action. Of course, a big part of this project is the collaboration with Japanese pop artists, and Aoki's protagonist was lovingly modeled after the singer of the song, Kumi Koda. Aoki is a real pro who approaches his work with sincerity and tremendous gusto. It feels like he's just reaching the peak of his powers, and I hope we get to see that energy put to good use in the coming years.