July 6, 2009
In addition to the opening film and animation highlights revealed by the 2009 Fantasia festival, the rest of the films do not merely round out the animation portion of programming. These selections reflect some of the more interesting selections of on the cinematic edge.

The features, in addition to Genius Party Beyond, Hells, and Les Lascars:
  • Edison and Leo, the first Canadian stop-motion feature, is described as a "surprising chunk of steampunk fun, a revisionist, retro science-fiction thriller with a zesty dash of decidedly adult gags." OK, I'm in.
  • anime features Eureka Seven and Evangelion 1.0
The shorts, in addition to those in Tokyo OnlyPic 2008, Celluloid Experiments 2009, DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party:
Also of note:
Bon festival!

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July 2, 2009

The full Fantasia 2009 lineup will be announced soon, but here are some of the animation highlights of North American's largest cult film festival, right in fps's home base of Montreal.

I'm excited about Genius Party Beyond, Studio 4C's companion to Genius Party, shown last year at the festival.

Hells Angels is a Madhouse production with a star crew behind this manga adaptation. Cencoroll is a shorter take that seems quite intriguing. Seems equally intriguing, but with a more sedate, less over-the-top storytelling style.

The feature Les Lascars is based on the French cult show of the same name and should go over well with the boisterous festival crowd (if you've not yet made it to a Fantasia festival screening, the involvement of the audience is worth the price of the ticket alone).

Tokyo Onlypic 2008 looks like it will be a side-splitter. It's an anthology of animated and live-action shorts describing outrageous Olympic-style events. Check out Bill Plympton's Race For Love in the trailer.

DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party promises another year or crazily juxtaposed shorts (many animated) simulating the channel-changing experience... to the power of ten.

Celluloid Experiments always features edgy animation selections in its roster. I doubt this year will be any different.

You'll be able to view the full schedule online and procure a printed festival program with a DVD full of trailers on Friday. Hope you can survive the wait!

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April 29, 2009
TwitchFilm is streaming the trailer for First Squad, Studio 4°C's latest project. According to ANN, the film was helmed by Yoshiharu Ashino, based on characters created by Russian artists Misha Sprits and Aljosha Klimov. Here's the premise:

It is 1942. The Red Army is putting up a violent and effective resistance against the German invaders. 14 year-old Nadya is a medium. In a deadly air raid the girl is shell-shocked. Recovering from her concussion, Nadya discovers her new gift – the ability to foresee the “Moments of Truth” - the most critical moments of future combat encounters, in which one person’s actions will decide the outcome one way or the other.

Nadya’s ability is indispensable for the classified 6th Division of the Russian Military Intelligence, which is waging a secret war against the “Ahnenerbe” – an occult order within the SS. The Ahnenerbe summons from the realm of the dead the powerful prince of darkness, Baron von Wolff. With him on their side they hope to change the course of history and achieve world domination. To oppose the Baron Nadya decides to enlist the support of her old friends from the beyond – the Pioneers of the First Squad.

This looks like so much fun: all the fantasy pseudo-science of a good conspiracy theory with things like cavalry battles in the snow and utterly terrifying men in pig masks. It'll also be interesting to see how this treats the "Nazi obsession with the occult" theme in comparison to something like Conqueror of Shamballa. The first reviews will be out this May, after Cannes.

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October 1, 2008

Studio 4°C’s Genius Party Beyond has just been confirmed for fps as one of the many delectable films on the menu at this years Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. This is an incredible treat for fans of the studio who brought us Tekkon Kinkreet and for animation enthusiasts alike as the anthology film has seen very few screenings on North American shores.

Festival details, further film listings, and more will be available soon on the official Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema site! We'll post a full schedule here on fps as soon as it's confirmed.

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July 5, 2008
One of the first films that ever screened at Fantasia was the animated adaptation of Katsuhiro's Otomo's Memories, produced by Studio 4°C. Over the years, the studio has produced some notable feature-length narratives and shorts in omnibus films, including but not limited to Cat Soup, The Animatrix, Mind Game, Tekkon Kinkreet, and Batman: Gotham Knight. They have a powerhouse of talent that has allowed them to create some of the most interesting animation anywhere.

In Kenji Ishimaru's 2007 interview with studio CEO Eiko Tanaka, she mentions that all of this hard work was to get to one point: to be profitable enough to create what became Genius Party.

These seven stories are as distinct as they are breathtaking. Shanghai Dragon, Dethtic4, Limit Cycle and the opening sequence Genius Party (also a self-contained short) are the shorts that are seared into my brain. Almost every short has perfect pacing, a great aesthetic, and an interesting story.

The project grew large enough that this is the first of two omnibus films, the other being Genius Party Beyond. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Genius Party plays again on Sunday, July 6th at 1:00pm at Montreal's Fantasia film festival.

Previously on fps:
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Studio 4°C
Genius Party
Interview: Eiko Tanaka
Interview: Masaki Yuasa

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July 2, 2008
There is a reason Batman has his own label on fps. Besides many of us being big comic fans, many of us are huge fans of the Bat specifically. He has numerous animated interpretations and the notable incarnations in the 90s and 00s have definitely left their mark on (what was) Saturday morning television, cable television, comic book adaptations, and Warner Bros. television animation.

So people are a little nervous about an anime version of Batman since Batman: Gotham Knight was announced. I am a huge Batman fan and a huge anime fan, but I won't champion one at the expense of the other. After hearing about the talent behind the series of interrelated shorts, both American and Asian, I was somewhat relieved, but I was also willing to wait for a final verdict once I'd actually seen the shorts. After getting a peek at the soon-to-be released DVD in a theatrical setting gearing up for the 2008 edition of Fantasia, I think people's fears are largely unfounded.

Disliking the stories because they use the visual style of anime is just as bad as only liking it because it is anime. What you need to know is the stories are told well. What you need to know is these stories all embody something about the Legend of the Bat and are consistent with the characters that have already been established. It does look great!

And the same people that dismiss the anthology because it is anime will probably be the ones who refuse to notice that there are six very distinct visual styles that are employed to tell each story. The level of interestingness does vary depending on the style you are drawn to, but this is also the case of a decades long comic-collector who has some artists they prefer over others. Like these artists, Batman's look changes at the whim of the artists involved. The two stories with styles I found the most recognizable and distinct from the others were produced by Studio 4°C. They were even distinct from each other. Selecting one of these as the first story in the set was a great choice as it breaks conventions of what people consider the "anime style."

There are no spoilers in this entire post. I am not interested in ruining it for anybody, especially the die-hard Batman fans. However, if you are told or read spoilers elsewhere, you will not find out anything new about Batman if you already know his character. You will feel comforted by the way the stories fit easily into the mythos that has already been created from past stories. Just go and watch the stories unfold, and enjoy another glimpse of Batman's early days as he tries to learn the ropes of crimefighting.

You can catch a theatrical screening of Batman: Gotham Knight at Montreal's Fantasia festival on Saturday at noon, before it is released on DVD next Tuesday.

Previously on fps
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Batman: Gotham Knight Promo Video Online
DC Comics OAVs
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo
The End of Justice League

Previously on The Critical Eye
Batman Animated
Batman & Batman Beyond
Paul Dini
Bruce Timm & Glen Murakami

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July 1, 2008

It's a week of firsts for this blogger - this is my first post on fps and my first experience with Montreal's famous genre spectacle, the Fantasia Film Festival. Illustrator and fellow fps blogger Matt Forsythe and I attended the press symposium and were treated to a preview of what we can expect from July 3rd-21st.

This year's animated offerings feature an unusual and unintentional focus on collaborative efforts and collections of short films, from DC Comics' Batman: Gotham Knight, Studio 4C's aptly named anime extravaganza, Genius Party, and the cutting-edge showcase, Best of Ottawa Animation Festival 2007. There are only two single-narrative feature-length animated presentations in the entire fest - Bill Plympton's poetic, pencil-scratch surrealist vision, Idiots and Angels and John Bergin's bleak, post-apocalyptic fable, From Inside. We'll cover each entry in more detail throughout the festival.

Continue past the jump for a full schedule of the animated films screening at Fantasia 2008:

July 4th - 7:30PM - Hall Theatre - Genius Party
July 5th - 12:00PM - Hall Theatre - Batman: Gotham Knight
July 5th - 1:00PM - J.A. De Seve - Best of Ottawa Animation Festival 2007
July 6th - 1:00PM - Hall Theatre - Genius Party
July 7th - 9:45PM - Hall Theatre - Peur (s) Du Noir
July 9th - 3:00PM - J.A. De Seve - Peur (s) Du Noir
July 9th - 7:30PM - Hall Theatre - Idiots and Angels (Hosted by creator, Bill Plympton)
July 12th - 2:40PM - J.A. De Seve - Outer Limits Of Animation 2008 (Shorts from around the globe)
July 13th - 9:40PM - J.A. De Seve - From Inside
July 14th - 3:00PM - J.A. De Seve - From Inside

(Okay, who's the putz that programmed Batman: Gotham Knight to screen at the same time as the Ottawa Festival shorts?! ...sigh... guess I'll have to watch you at home on Blu-ray, Batman...)

Tickets go on sale July 2nd at 2PM at the Concordia Hall Theatre (Guy-Concordia Metro) and throughout the Admission Network at $7.50 each.

Directions:Hall Theatre - 1455 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions
DB Clarke Theatre - 1455 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions
J.A. De Seve - 1400 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions

Previously on fps:
2007 Fantasia Line-Up
Batman: Gotham Knight Online
Genius Party Trailers
Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton

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February 14, 2008
The Japan Culture + Hyperculture festival at the Kennedy Center is the place to be in Washington D.C. this weekend for exciting anime. We've been falling all over ourselves because of Genius Party anthology for a while, and its North American premiere and the world premiere of Genius Party Beyond will be screening at the festival on Friday and Saturday. The other three anime screenings on Sunday are equally notable: it just depends on the type of animation you like to seek out. The east coast premieres of Appleseed: Ex Machina and The Piano Forest are firsts, but Five Centimeters Per Second, despite being listed as an east coast premiere, screened last November at WFAC.

Thanks to a head's up from Amid at Cartoon Brew.

Previously on fps
Genius Party
Masaaki Yuasa interview
Eiko Tanaka interview

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September 28, 2007
In the last of this week's three-day Tekkonkinkreet tour, we present our latest video podcast: a music video set to Plaid's "White Dream"—or, more accurately, to the Shinichi Osawa remix of "White's Dream," from the Tekkonkinkreet soundtrack remix CD. The video is directed by Michael Arias, who generously provided it for us to post here.

Watch the video

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September 26, 2007
Interview by Emru Townsend and Tamu Townsend

Tekkonkinkreet has a long history, having started with a CG short created in the late 1990s, based on the Taiyo Matsumoto manga Black & White. Originally created as an exercise, Tekkonkinkreet was eventually slated to be a feature helmed by seasoned director Koji Morimoto—and then, silence. It wasn’t until late 2005 that it was announced that Tekkonkinkreet was on the boards again, this time with Michael Arias (who had created the original short) directing. The result was a heady, lush and sometimes baffling feature that saw very limited theatrical release in North America and is now out on DVD. Shortly after the film opened this year's Fantasia film festival, we interviewed Michael Arias via e-mail about the story behind Tekkonkinkreet.

Read the interview

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Tekkonkinkreet made its North American DVD/Blu-ray/UMD debut today, and we're celebrating with three days of related bits of Tekkon goodness on the site. First up: an image gallery featuring movie stills, original background art (including pre-production images, like the cropped segment at left), and even reference photos from director Michael Arias. Unless you happen to hang around Studio 4°C, you've never seen some of these images before. Check it out.

See the gallery

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July 12, 2007

One of the most obnoxious things about Hollywood movies is the tendency to put kids in danger to mine a little extra anxiety from the audience. It's a cheap stunt, because bad things rarely happen to kids in Hollywood films. (Steven Spielberg is a serial offender here. Remember Short Round on the bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or Tim climbing the soon-to-be-re-electrified fence in Jurassic Park? Right.)

There's none of that fake danger in Tekkon Kinkreet, the Studio 4°C film that opened the Fantasia film festival this year. The young protagonists live in a harsh, gritty world that gives no quarter, and that sometimes takes the movie to places that Hollywood movies fear to tread.

Tekkon Kinkreet is the story of Kuro and Shiro (whose names literally translate to Black and White), two of the many orphan children who prowl the streets of Treasure Town. Shiro, the younger of the two, is the innocent, while Kuro has no problem with getting his knuckles (or a length of pipe) bloody to protect him or their turf. In this mix are two cops (one older and wiser, who keeps an eye out for Kuro and Shiro, the other a young rookie); a young yakuza who's leading his boss's advance into Treasure Town; and a mysterious and sinister elfin character who aims to turn a fair chunk of Treasure Town into a massive theme park.

There's a lot going on in this movie, and every one of its 100 minutes is put to good use. The kids, the cops, the yakuza and the developer all have some sort of interplay between each other (sometimes with words, sometimes with violence, sometimes with both), but just as importantly, they each have some sort of interplay with the city itself. In fact, Tekkon Kinkreet is as much about our various relationships to the urban landscape as anything else.

Based on the Taiyo Matsumoto manga Black & White and directed by Michael Arias, Tekkon Kinkreet shares elements of other anime films that feature outsider children. Like Grave of the Fireflies, Kuro and Shiro have struck out on their own, with the older character willing to take on any burden to protect the younger's health and innocence. Like Akira, the movie dwells mostly among those who live in the city but who have dropped out of society. And like Kakurenbo, these kids' relationship with the urban landscape has little to do with its intended use, but is in many ways more intimate and more thorough than for ordinary citizens.

The movie looks fantastic, with Treasure Town a lush forest of rooftops, fire escapes, cables and signs. The characters who inhabit Treasure Town are angular, slope-shouldered, asymmetrical—they owe more in look to Mind Game than, say, Naruto—and fit right in with the bustling, chaotic city. I was quite surprised during the post-screening Q&A when an audience member implied that most of the film was clearly CG; not only because it's obviously not the case, but because if there's any film that proves it doesn't matter which elements are CG and which are hand-drawn, it's this one. The appropriate tool is used at the appropriate time, and it's put together not with the express intent of hiding the seams, but of making the scene work. The end result is something you'll want to repeatedly freeze-frame when the DVD comes out, but which you should catch on the big screen when its limited North American run starts on Friday, just to drink it all in.

Tekkon Kinkreet
Directed by Michael Arias
100 minutes
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet Limited Edition on DVD (Region 2) at YesAsia.com
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet on DVD at Amazon.com
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet soundtrack CD at Amazon.com
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet soundtrack remix CD at YesAsia.com

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July 2, 2007
Interview by Kenji Ishimaru

Studio 4°C has been leading the world of high quality animation in Japan. We interviewed Eiko Tanaka, CEO of Studio 4°C, about their highly anticipated but very secret latest product, called Genius Party.

Read the interview

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June 28, 2007
The first event of the Platform International Animation Festival took place on Monday night with Competition 1. Irene Kotlarz, Director of Programming (pictured) got things rolling and welcomed and eager crowd that had already been well-taken care of by registration and other volunteer staff. If there were any fires being put out in the background, attendees sure didn't know about it. The festival has been a well-oiled machine so far.

The first short to screen was Torill Kove's The Danish Poet, this year's Oscar winner. Luis Cook's The Pearce Sisters was a standout Aardman short and one of the newer shorts in the selection. Recently acclaimed shorts such as Run Wrake's Rabbit and Theodore Ushev's Tower Bawher were shown and I became newly acquainted with Herzog and the Monsters.

The opening night party offered a chance for people to reconnect and make some new contacts in a great setting and others snuck off later in the evening for Comedy vs. Art, featuring an animation face-off between Bill Plympton and Joanna Priestley.

Tuesday was the first full day of the festival and I started off the day at the Meet the Animators panel moderated by Ramin Zahed of Animation Magazine. The thread that ran through all of the discussions dealt with passion for animating. Marc Bertrand of the National Film Board said he would rather people make films for themselves with themes they care about rather than impressing a producer. Motomichi Nakamura suggested that animators put work in their portfolio that they really enjoyed and not put in the rest.

The highlight of the day was the feature Tekkon Kinkreet, with its lush visuals and bold style. Director Michael Arias (pictured) was in the house and answered an extended Q&A about the making of the film.

After Competition 3, I could barely survive Animation From Hell, which screened Shut Eye Hotel, Bill Plympton's new short. So many activities can get a bit taxing, and I had to get ready for another day replete with great activities.

(Photos by official festival photographer CJ Beaman.)

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June 21, 2007
If you weren't hanging around in New York or a city in France when Tekkon Kinkreet was showing recently, you'll be able to see it on the big screen if you're near the Portland, Oregon area on June 26 at the Platform International Animation Festival.

Don't be fooled by the picture. As much as you want to snatch White up, this film is not for kids. I was reminded of that pointedly after rereading the first volume of the English comics adaptation of the original Tekkon Kinkreet comic, Black and White.

This is just one of the many exciting films and panels scheduled for the inaugural edition of the festival. Visit our contest page to see how you can win a Full Pass for two to Platform.

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April 30, 2007
It's good week to live in France. By that, I really mean it's only good to live in Nantes or somewhere really close by. Amer Beton, the French-subtitled version of Tekkon Kinkreet, opens on Wednesday theatrically in one theatre in that city, quite a few hours away from Paris. Allocine has the trailer and 4 excerpts of the film. Amer Beton was also the French version of the comic from which the film is adapted, and in English it was originally published under the name Black and White.

Now that Sony has picked up distribution rights, many people have been more hopeful. IMDB lists an American limited release for the second week of July, and I have yet to see or read anything for Canada outside of the festival circuit.

Several sites have been repeating that a domestic DVD release is set for the end of September. It seems to have begun with an announcement from Anime News Service, and picked up by several others, including the very reliable Twitch and Anime News Network. However, I have yet to see the date on the Sony website, despite most sites linking back to Sony's upcoming DVD releases, which are only listed until June. Viz is also planning to re-release the comic a few weeks before that, so it does make sense, but I'm still checking.

While all of this TK news is heartening, it bothers me that distributors still don't have enough faith to give innovative features a chance by giving them more theatrical exposure. I can't see it hurting their DVD sales, only increasing them.

At the end of the last week, the English Tekkon Kinkreet website went live, and you can access the trailer from the main page.

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April 2, 2007
We've been eagerly awaiting the appearance of Genius Party since Mind Game director Masaaki Yuasa dropped some hints about it in our 2005 interview. Those of us who attended the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema last November were treated to an early trailer of the anime anthology, but in recent weeks Studio 4°C has dropped a few more on their website. Check them out to kill some time while we finish editing our interview with Studio 4°C chief Eiko Tanaka.

Trailer 001
Trailer 002
Trailer 003
Trailer 004

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