Anthology series of 12 short films by various anime directors.
Like Memories, this is a rather mixed bag of anime shorts (and in fact two of the three stories in Memories were created by the same studio that did this one); but unlike Memories, several of the shorts here are more collections of surreal images done in a free-form style rather than having a conventional story, though there are a few here that have traditional plotting to go with their dreamlike weirdness.
As a reviewer, I had to consider how much my own personal bias in favor of having an actual story of some kind, rather than just random hallucinatory free-association, would color my overall ratings. I know that some viewers will be fascinated by segments that I just found tedious. Perhaps I should just describe the films themselves?
Starting with Genius Party:
The title segment, by Atsuko Fukushima, features some stone heads on a beach experiencing ecstasy (I think). I'll give it points for sheer energy, but as noted some of these just don't have much of a coherent story...
The next one, "Shanghai Dragon", is by Shoji Kawamori (Macross, The Vision of Escaflowne), and its director's experience with mecha anime shines through. It features a literally snot-nosed child who finds a device that can create anything its wielder imagines, who suddenly gets caught up in a war between humans and machines. There's plenty of frenetic action (and homage to the imagination of children); the thing kind of reminds one of one of the better stories from Heavy Metal (as does another story, in Beyond, that I'll get to later.)
Next, we have "Deathtic 4" by Shinji Kimura. It's kind of a cross between shows like Paranorman and The Corpse Bride with monster designs vaguely recalling Maurice Sendak's. Set in a world where living things are unwelcome, our young hero here tries to return a frog to its own world. OK, the fart joke WAS crass, but I thought the Zombie Police were pretty hilarious (especially their conveyances.)
"Doorbell", by Yoji Fukuyama, has a delightful Twilight Zone feel, showing that it IS possible to have some kind of coherent story even within dream logic. In addition to a hero who is literally beside himself (and not one BIT happy about that), there's a weirdly endearing recurring bit with a loudmouthed guy who seems to be having exactly the same conversation with different people.
On the other hand, I HATED "Limit Cycle" by Hideki Futamura. It's a visual montage of mostly still images, while a narrator rambles on (and ON and ON) with various stream-of-consciousness philosophical pronouncements that don't seem to add up to any coherent argument (and he repeats himself a lot, too), though God gets mentioned frequently, so I guess theology is in there someplace. Its hermeneutics seem pretty facile to me, though. I've actually run into people who drone on like this in real life; I inevitably seek excuses to take my leave of them. As quickly as may be.
"Happy Machine" by Masaaki Yuasa uses its surreal images to try to capture the chaos of an infant's imagination (as does another segment, in Beyond.) Sometimes the visuals here recall Dr. Seuss, sometimes they recall Yellow Submarine; but again, WAY too unstructured for my personal taste.
The final segment in the first Genius Party is "Baby Blue", with a much more conventional plotline and art, by Shinichiro Watanabe (of Cowboy Bebop fame.) It's the tale of two young friends- a boy and a girl, though they're not lovers- who decide to spend a final day together. The ending here is surprisingly sweet.
And now on to infinity, and Beyond:
We start with "Gala", by Mahiro Maeda. A village, whose residents include some fairies, elves, and other magical creatures as well as humans, is suddenly alarmed by the descent of a giant hard-shelled object. After a brief attempt to get inside it by destructive means, it's somehow decided that what is really needed here is an impromptu musical concert, and all I can say is that apparently the little things in life take more behind-the-scenes effort than you might realize.
"Moondrive" is by Kazuto Nakazawa, famed for Parasite Dolls and Kill Bill Volume 1. It's done in a crude, gritty style that reminded me a lot of early Ralph Bakshi, and its subject matter is appropriate too- a gang of inept lowlifes on a terraformed Moon who aspire to find hidden treasure. It reminded me of Bakshi in its contempt toward women as well, or at least of the one woman who's with the gang; since these losers are chronically broke, the only form of currency they have to purchase goods and services (or pay off debts) is her- "I'll give you this woman for one hour" is a recurring (supposed) gag. On the other hand, I WAS fairly amused by the train our little cast rides at one point, though- nice sight gag.
"Wanwa' The Doggy" by Shinya Ohira is the other surreal piece I mentioned that's based in a child's perceptions and imagination (for there's no clear dividing line between the two for very small children.) I think Death rears its ugly head in this one at one point, but again this sort of mostly formless sequence of images isn't really my thing.
But "Toujin Kit", by Tatsuyuki Tanaka, shows that surreal imagery, under the discipline of a real plot, CAN actually be pretty wonderful. This is the other one that recalls the better stories of magazines like Heavy Metal. It's set in a dystopian future where a young woman copes with the loneliness in her life by infusing a forbidden life-form into her stuffed animals. There's a fascinating use of color (and its absence) in this one that echoes how color was (and wasn't) used in The Wizard of Oz. I thought the chief villain's "henchmen" were delightfully weird too. This segment was easily my favorite of all the Genius Party presentations.
The last segment, "Dimension Bomb" by Koji Morimoto, was kind of a letdown (at least for me) by comparison. Again, we've got a long series of images, some of which are admittedly gorgeous computer graphics, that nevertheless don't seem to contain much of an actual story, though there are definite airs of menace and malice in this one, so at least it has some attitude.
OK, that overall rating. As I said, it's a hard one; by my personal tastes, 5 of the 12 segments I really liked, I was OK with 2 others, and 5 I found too plotless to appeal to me, so I guess we'd be looking at about a C (or 3-star) show. However, I do know that, while I didn't care as much for the final minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey as for the rest of it, there WERE some people who felt exactly the opposite. For YOU folks, I'm going 4 stars here. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: There's some nudity, though it's not at all done in an exploitative way. And of course there's the business with the poor woman in "Moondrive". So 15+?
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of Netflix (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (2/2)
Genius Party © 2007 Studio 4˚C
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