...And Now I Never Need To Watch Anything By Studio 4C Ever Again.



Reader & Forum Member Eight Rooks on Studio 4C overload, in the hope somebody somewhere wakes up and licenses it all for some nice DVD releases... consider this an essential overview of much of the studios output (well, the shorts), a massive piece of work that has certainly been put together incredibly well. Thanks Eight Rooks... this is complete and unedited. Oh, and I use a picture (to the left) of 'Mindgame' once again, because it's a travesty if you haven't seen it - great film from this very same studio (and there are others we want a wider audience for) that has a lot of stuff worth seeing in its' back catalogue.

Like any other animation house, Studio 4C have done their fair share of shorter work, whether for out-and-out commercial purposes or simply to give a director the chance to explore subject matter and/or a means of artistic expression which might not be feasible in a series or longer feature. While by no means comprehensive, this is intended to be an overview of most of these less well known short films, with an opinion on whether or not they make for essential viewing and how easy they might be to get hold of.

OPEN THE DOOR (Tobira O Akete), 1995, approx 11 min.

Open The Door represents an early step towards the integration of CG and 2D animation Studio 4C would become so well known for. The plot is more or less an excuse for the production team to indulge themselves, with varying results - a little girl about to go to bed meets a friendly apparition who steps out of the shadows across her door, then takes her on a journey through a psychedelic wonderland, stretches of which bring to mind a Japanese pop-culture take on Yellow Submarine. A good portion of the effects look more than a little dated now - one early sequence involving still photos blurred and distorted to imply the young heroine and her guide are flying through a forest is close to laughable, and most of the second half involves a lot of creative panning around of static or very sparingly animated images, a technique which pales quite quickly. The CG which tries to match a 2D background is still eyecatching, though, clearly showing the origins of the techniques that would be refined in later productions. Also, while the little girl's journey proper doesn't even come close to, say, one of Miyazaki's flying sequences, the way in which her visitor is revealed when the shadows in her room fall together just so - because of the way her mother has left the door open - is truly enchanting. Now fansubtitled and also available as an (unsubtitled) extra on the reissued Noiseman: Sound Insect DVD, whilst comfortably eclipsed by much of what the studio would go on to produce, Open The Door is still well worth watching.

EXTRA, (Koji Morimoto) 1995, approx 3 min 30.

Extra is Koji Morimoto's promotional video for the single by techno artist and DJ Ken Ishii, which originally appeared on his 1995 album Jelly Tones and was released as a single that same year. Extra is wordless, and if anyone were going to produce visual accompaniment for it the most obvious association to draw being the percussive machinery noises that underpin the track; Ishii is a huge admirer of the Detroit techno movement, critically praised for its ability to make very strict, regimented rhythms seem warm and organic rather than cold and sterile. This may help to place Morimoto's visuals in some kind of context; he strings together several tenuously connected vignettes where people roam a futuristic urban jungle, hunting strange patchwork robot figures. One can see the pastel cityscapes of Noiseman taking shape here, as well as the influence of Morimoto's time working under Katsuhiro Otomo on Akira, though there are traces of Eternal Family as well, with elements of body horror, twisted sexuality, surgical obsession and animal violence. The studio's trademark CG is also marvellously realised, with several dizzying pans and swings, and the design work has a fantastic, nightmarish Bladerunner atmosphere by way of angry Shinjuku street fashionistas. Overall, it still remains every bit as impressive as it must have been a decade ago, and it's not hard to see why it won the MTV music video of the year award on release. Sadly, Ishii has never issued the clip on DVD, though it remains so widely praised it can be found on any number of internet sources of streaming video.

NOISEMAN: SOUND INSECT (Onkyou Seimeitai Noiseman), 1997, approx 15 min.

In a strange, ramshackle futuristic city the mad scientist Doctor Franken is conducting experiments - some may recognise the doctor from the earlier omnibus film Robot Carnival, specifically the section Franken's Gears, also by director Koji Morimoto. Franken's creation Noiseman, a dancing, helium-voiced yellow thing halfway between an imp and a transparent beanbag, proves more than the doctor can handle. Warily backing away as Noiseman grows rapidly in size, Franken falls into one of his own machines, a strange device that separates human beings into a mournful little fish-like creature and a beautiful crystal. Noiseman is terrified of the one and entranced by the other. Flash forward, then, to when he's apparently taken over the city and most people seem happy with that, hunting down the little fish for him and fetching him the crystals even while people are abducted and forcibly separated into the two. Suddenly, in the middle of a breakneck chase two young hunters end up accidentally consuming the mysterious fruit that the little fish feed on in the wild, the juice of which breaks Noiseman's control and leads them to attempt to join the rebellion against him...

What all this means is anyone's guess. Noiseman: Sound Insect is about as defiantly anti-mainstream as animation gets whilst still remaining watchable. Barely fifteen minutes long, more like twelve if you consider the ending credits last nearly three minutes, it crams in enough material for a feature length film with hardly a pause for breath and rarely if ever stops to explain a thing. This coupled with its breakneck pace, visual and kinetic excess lead many who've watched it to stagger away dismissing it as overloaded and ephemeral. Whilst this argument does have some sound basis it does brush aside the fact that Noiseman possesses quite a solid narrative. Much like a highlight reel for a longer film, it strips the story down to bare essentials and throws the very idea of exposition out of the window, but it definitely makes a kind of twisted, oddball sense and follows a clearly definable narrative path. What story there is is just enough to build up some basic identification with the characters, and through gestures and expressions it manages a bit more - plus the visual side of the narrative is structured and paced clearly enough that with some filling in the blanks the careful viewer can piece together how events move from A to B to C and so on.

All the same, whether or not one accepts the film has narrative strengths it certainly helps that it looks absolutely stunning. With such a short running time, Morimoto and company (Mindgame director Masaki Yuasa served in several key roles) pulled out all the stops, and nearly ten years on Noiseman still impresses on a visual and aural level if nothing else. The wildly imaginative art design apes a child's playset, a Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic future, an Alice In Wonderland dreamland and more, all perfectly coloured in a soft, pastel palette. The use of CG puts many of today's animated productions to shame - 4C are arguably better at integrating 3D and 2D than Production I.G. and Noiseman is still a beautiful example of this. The flight through the cityscape as the hunters chase the little fishes is a dizzying set piece for all it barely lasts a minute. The voice acting and sound work is noteworthy, if as relentlessly excessive as the visuals, and the film boasts a score by the composer Yoko Kanno, which also manages to cram quite a spread of influences into fifteen minutes, from thundering hardcore to neo-classical to the playful ending theme.

The film was originally only available as a promotional item bundled with a brand of DVD player sold through a particular chain of Japanese convenience stores, and it commanded hugely inflated prices on internet auction sites for quite some time. Fansubtitled versions now exist, plus Bandai subsequently put out a reissue with English subtitles (which also includes Franken's Gears and several other Studio 4C shorts) though this now seems almost as hard to find as the initial printing. Noiseman remains a tremendous piece of work, worth watching for the sheer craft involved alone, though for those prepared to make the effort there is enough symbolism and subtext even inside such a short running time one has to credit the film with being something more than just excess and playfulness for the sake of it. If you enjoy animation, particularly animation which pushes the boundaries of the medium, it comes highly recommended.

ETERNAL FAMILY (Eikyu Kazoku), 1997, approx 29 min.

In a future society a group of disadvantaged citizens are plucked from the streets and their memories are forcibly re-written. They are set up in a sealed environment, free to live out their lives convinced they're a peculiarly dysfunctional family, broadcast daily on live television for the entertainment of the masses. Father, mother, and their three children are happy enough until one day a freak accident with their toilet allows them to escape to the outside world. Here, the nature of their strange existence is revealed to them, though the ultimate consequences of this epiphany are not quite what anyone would expect.

Like Noiseman: Sound Insect, Koji Morimoto's Eternal Family is another example of Studio 4C running riot around a surprisingly lucid narrative, though Eternal Family plays more havoc with its half-hour runtime for all Noiseman crams three times as much content into a third of the space. Eternal Family throws in constant abrupt scene-switches (the pivotal toilet flushing), flashbacks, oblique camera angles, strobing, a raucous soundtrack and 4C and Morimoto's enthusiasm for constant, overly stylised motion at every turn. Though the story is a good deal more solid than one might have expected the film feels far less like a whole and more solely like an excuse to explore the possibilities of a hundred different exaggerated poses and physical actions - slapstick, cartoon violence, toilet humour, touches of fetishistic sexual content and so on.

Not that this is wholly a bad thing, or at all for some. The machine-gun rhythm of the editing is captivating in its own way, and the visual experimentation gives us a great deal to enjoy - Koji Morimoto's character designs here are not as freakish as some of his work but the manic energy they project is hugely impressive. Still, after the better part of a decade Eternal Family no longer comes across as strongly as some of Studio 4C's other titles - the thick, heavy lines feel very much of their time, somehow and the colour palette, both flat and lurid, gives an impression of cheapness, like melting plastic or tacky oil paint. The film lacks any real set pieces, either, and for all its off-kilter style the direction feels somewhat restrained, as though there's very little to these characters beyond how interestingly they can stretch and bend and the backdrops could be anything for all they relate to what's going on. The score rattles along with a fair turn of speed, but never provides the viewer with anything especially memorable. Every aspect of the film is never less than competent, but nothing seems to stick in the mind anything like as much as Morimoto and company presumably hoped it would.

Even second-rate Studio 4C is more than worth watching but for those who lack any significant interest in the technical flair on display it's hard to recommend actually purchasing Eternal Family, should you have the opportunity (the unsubtitled Japanese DVD is still available on import), rather than merely tracking down the fansubtitled version and indulging your curiosity.

FOUR DAY WEEKEND, 1998, approx 4 min.

Four Day Weekend is Studio 4C's promotional video for the song by the English rock band The Bluetones, originally available on their 1998 album Return To The Last Chance Saloon and only released as a single via a mail-order offer. Two girls run through another of Studio 4C's towering cityscapes, one intermittently getting possessed by some kind of shadowy, spectral form; machinery and wireframe polygons seem to swallow up the countryside, and only blowing bubbles can hold back the spectre's influence and save the girls from harm.

Four Day Weekend is competent, if not particularly exceptional - the character designs recall Noiseman, though the cityscapes are more just a general brooding presence than anything especially distinguished, the same sort of generic dystopian backgrounds as countless other artists have turned out. Scenes of the band themselves are something like an early version of the work done integrating live-action footage with CG in Mindgame, though so primitive here the effect now seems rather awkward. The biggest problem is really that compared to the best the studio have done, there's nothing much here that out-and-out demands the viewer's attention - even on a purely technical level the characters do little that excites. Four Day Weekend is worth watching, but another thing it's hard to imagine anyone paying any great amount of money to get to see.

SURVIVAL, 1999, approx 5 min.

Survival is Studio 4C's promotional video for the song by the Japanese rock band Glay, originally available on their 1999 album Heavy Gauge and released as a video single that same year. A group of schoolgirls hang out in a nameless Japanese city, having a raucous good time until one of them appears to be momentarily pulled out of existence, flickering in and out of reality. Gradually, she begins to shift more and more often, drifting from place to place disconnected from everything going on around her, until she collapses from exhaustion. Lying by the side of the road she experiences a momentary epiphany about everything she's left behind and casually forgotten on growing older, and in the grip of that epiphany resolves to make things better.

Going by Glay's lyrics, Survival seems to be 4C experimenting with the same ideas of ennui and disaffection with urban life as appear in all their music videos, only here the visuals are a sort of halfway stage between the pastel tints and more rounded, softer designs of Noiseman and Four Day Weekend and the bright, vibrant cyberpunk imagery they would come up with for Connected; the hallucinogenic epiphany the girl goes through seems particularly related. Some of the CG for that sequence is a little weak, with shades of the anonymous fractal and geometric designs typically found in longform rave videos, but the rest is excellent, particularly the backgrounds when travelling through the city. Bright and lively yet with definite emotional weight, smartly edited and beautifully drawn, Survival still stands up after seven years and is well worth seeing.

DIGITAL JUICE, 2002 (collected from 1999-2001), approx 20 min.

Digital Juice is a collection of six experimental short films by six different directors commissioned by Studio 4C between 1999 and 2001 and released in 2002. All six are fairly surreal, some extremely so, all of them concentrating far more on cutting edge techniques in computer animation, differing visual techniques and artistic styles than conventional narratives. The DVD was only ever released in Japan without subtitles (bearing in mind several of the shorts feature little or no dialogue to begin with) and is long since out of print, though all six have been fansubtitled. Nonetheless, Digital Juice is a tremendous showcase of Studio 4C's eye for talent and collective ethos overall, and well worth a purchase if one can afford it - along with Noiseman, anyone remotely interested in experimental, atypical or just plain excellent animation ought to see it.

Part 1: THE LORD OF THE SWORD, approx 2 min.

- Samurai rock out.

The Lord Of The Sword is one of two Digital Juice clips which play out more as trailers for some as-yet-unreleased animated feature than an actual short. Set to thundering heavy metal, various samurai warriors pose menacingly or are captured in action as intertitles flash up on screen - "Whirlwind Force!" "Valour!" "Unmatched Entertainment!" and so on. Using a dark colour palette and plenty of heavy lines, artistically it draws from pop art, folklore, woodblock prints, ancient chanbara films and more; the animation is nothing stellar, but still above average, with a sense of power and crackling energy that should be familiar to anyone who's ever watched any shounen anime. Creditably, it also manages to poke fun at itself, as 4C are fond of doing; the tone is boisterous enough it's obviously not to be taken that seriously, and there is at least one brief sequence close to the end that ought to raise a smile.

Part 2: CHICKEN'S INSURANCE, approx 3 min 30.

- A chicken on the streets attempts to sell insurance to two other chickens.

Chicken's Insurance has no real subtext, deep meaning or bold artistic aims; it's merely the well-worn exchange where an insurance salesman attempts to convince one or more persons they're in desperate need of what he's selling; only here, the participants are (somewhat) anthropomorphic chickens. For all that, it's as distinctive and compelling in its way as any of the other five shorts, made for the most part with a very strange use of CG - an oily, lumpen, clay sculpture look to it that puts one in mind of claymation, or Eastern European stop-motion animators like Jan Svankmajer, or perhaps the work of artist Josh Kirby (best known for illustrating the front covers of Terry Pratchett novels). It's also every bit as technically impressive, if not more so - the dream sequence mid-section where the salesman induces his prospective clients to compare their lives sans insurance to a leaky boat in a storm features some absolutely superb work on the towering waves. Maybe a little ephemeral, it's still amusing, and visually carries a lot more impact than first impressions might suggest.

Part 3: KIN JIN KITTO, approx 1 min.

- A girl on the run in a tumbledown city attempts to evade shadowy pursuers.

Kin Jin Kitto is the second of two Digital Juice clips which play out more as trailers for some as-yet-unreleased animated feature than an actual short. Even shorter than The Lord Of The Sword - literally a minute or less - it manages to build a creditable atmosphere nonetheless, with an aura of rust, pollution, heavy industry and decay (shots of a train passing, a deserted alleyway, a crumbling apartment block). Shots of a trenchcoated man in a fedora with two gas-masked henchmen also suggest something of a noir influence. Out of all six shorts, Kin Jin Kitto also features some of the most jaw-dropping examples of CG in the compilation, perhaps even more striking than Morimoto's earlier work in Noiseman and Extra. The various point of view sequences running headlong or retreating down corridors are smooth, nigh-on seamless and intricately detailed enough by themselves to make one wish the short had been expanded into a film proper.

Part 4: IN THE EVENING OF A MOONLIT NIGHT (Tsukiyo No Ban), approx 4 min 30.

- A dreamlike allegory for a young girl's sexual awakening.

Or at least this would seem to be the obvious interpretation. A young girl wanders through a strange, idyllic, clockwork city; she stops to hear a young boy play guitar and sing; she follows an older man, a dilettante with swirling cloak and long hair; the three of them go for a drive; the older man launches a rocket ship to the stars... In The Evening... is a strange, bewildering, even disquieting blend of gentle storybook whimsy and overly sexualised imagery, with no real narrative flow, more an experiment in atmosphere and tone. One would have to stretch quite a bit to find it actively offensive, but the fanservice - some restrained, some less so) of the underdeveloped heroine calls to mind Mohiro Kitoh's Narutaru (aka Shadow Star) without the subtext. It makes for a bizarrely incongruous mix with the laidback charm of the setting and general design, that being quite stunning; the backgrounds are crammed full of detail, a blend of Greek picture-postcard seaside ambience, endlessly busy machinery, toytown trappings like the work of a Japanese Richard Scarry, and drifts of cherry blossom among other things. Wordless, the short is accompanied by a single song that plays all the way up to the end credits, a kitsch, sleepy, summery track that adds to the laidback ambience even if it can't quite dispel the vague sense of unease.

Part 5: TABLE AND FISHMAN, approx 5 min 30.

- A Bonnie and Clyde couple in a strange futuristic world confront a monstrous creature and pay a peculiar price.

Another short for 4C by Osamu Kobayashi (End Of The World, on Sweat Punch!) who would go on to work on Beck and Paradise Kiss, among other things. Table And Fishman has the same surreal, vaguely Gallic, alien design work (one could argue many similarities with Jean-Paul Gaultier and Moebius' work on The Fifth Element); the blasted landscape seen in End Of The World makes another appearance here, and the quick cutting between largely static shots with one brief instance of animated detail is something Paradise Kiss subsequently made heavy use of. It features the same punky, anarchic sensibility as End Of The World, though with more of a mix of styles, going from the titular characters introducing the story against a homely, warmly pastel backdrop, to a brief black and white silent passage, to technicolour science fiction and then back to warm and cosy.

The CG is somewhat less impressive in places than the rest of the compilation; some of it could be a twisted, mutated earlier form of Blue Sky Studios' feature film Robots, though a little stilted and jerky, while other parts are uncomfortably plastic. The punchline also falls a little flat. While difficult to call it specifically the weakest of the shorts, it certainly leaves less of an impression than most of the others.

Part 6: AERIAL BAR, approx 4 min.

- Random snatches of conversation between the patrons - all of them anthropomorphic inanimate objects - of a floating wine bar in the sky.

Aerial Bar is Koji Morimoto's contribution to Digital Juice, recalling the strange, intentionally crude fusion of CG and live-action in the section Cannon Fodder from the omnibus film Memories, and also the techniques he and Masaki Yuasa would go on to use in Mindgame. All of the cast are fairly mundane props with a leering, distorted live-action face glued on. Virtually plotless, the short drifts between short bursts of conversation, most of them seen through Wine-Chan's point of view - a talking glass of wine with a bottle for a torso, the camera for these sections is more or less lodged in her head. With no music, or any accompanying sound other than conversation and a arrthymic thud like a heartbeat, Aerial Bar has an appropriately drunken, queasy, disoriented feel to it.

Whilst it doesn't have as much impact as some of the other shorts, it's still very well put together, and makes an impression more in that it burrows under the skin, making the viewer wonder what on earth they just saw, and it's notable that it achieves this comfortably without resorting to pyrotechnics, a myriad background details or a cast of thousands.

CONNECTED, 2002, approx 3 min 30.

Connected is Studio 4C's promotional video for the song by famous Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki (composed by Dutch commercial trance artist Ferry Corsten). Never released as a single in Japan (there was a German release in 2003), the track originally appears on her 2002 album I Am... while the video itself is only commercially available on her Complete Clips Box DVD set. The lyrics are a series of enigmatic, repetitive chants more than distinct verses and 4C seem to have gone for a fairly general visual interpretation of futureshock, urban malaise and disconnection; a rider takes his bike through the middle of a sprawling city as the buildings come to life, stamping everywhere; people ride the chaos like surfers on the crest of a wave; the city reproduces with pods that propagate like seeds, or perhaps a virus. Occasionally it feels suspiciously hackneyed - Ferry Corsten's involvement with Connected marked the start of a big commercial push for Hamasaki into the "cybertrance" movement, and the video is one of the few times the studio has come close to any sort of well-worn mainstream aesthetic with their short films.

The CG is not up to their strongest, either, and the video is somewhat clumsily edited, yet the design work is polished and some of the imagery is still fairly potent, particularly the cities bursting up through cracks in the ground, like a spreading disease. Connected demonstrates how even when 4C dabble in commercial territory, they can still find a way to push the dictates of the genre, and even for those who don't care for Ayumi Hamasaki it's still well worth watching.


The four Sweat Punch short films were released one by one on four separate volumes of the popular Grasshoppa! series of DVD magazines - compilations which showcased up and coming animators and short filmmakers. The series was never licensed in the West, though all four are still readily available on import.

PUNCH 1: PROFESSOR DAN PETORY'S BLUES (Dan Petory Kyoushu No Yuutsu), 2002, approx 10 min.

- Professor Dan Petory (a talking sock puppet) attempts to explain why UFOs fly in a zig-zag motion rather than a straight line, why the Earth appears blue and if aliens really exist at all, with musical accompaniment from a trio of female soybean puppets.

This is about all the explanation one can give for Professor Dan Petory's Blues. Anyone who finds the premise at all interesting is probably guaranteed to like it; over the course of an all-too-brief ten minutes or so it toys with simplistic CG, doodles, rough, sketchy animation, detailed studies of the human body in motion, senseless visual gags, acapella interludes and a near total disregard for any kind of logic or meaning whatsoever. Consistently amusing, smartly paced and edited, visually impressive and surprisingly aesthetically coherent, it is admittedly nothing more than ten minutes of playful experimentation, but then it makes absolutely no claims to being anything else. Recommended.

PUNCH 2: END OF THE WORLD, 2002, approx 11 min 30.

- Two girls meet and bond at a punk concert, yet one of them is hiding both a sad destiny and a wild and fantastical secret the other can't begin to guess at.

It's difficult to know whether to be vague about End Of The World's "plot" or simply spoil the whole thing; the second of Studio 4C's Sweat Punch series, suffice it to say it's mostly an excuse for some bizarrely inventive fantasy/science fiction design work. It seems to draw on French comic books to some degree, or maybe Hewlett and Martin's Tank Girl, while the brief opening concert snippet comes close to another of director Osamu Kobayashi's projects, the animated version of the manga Beck. The narrative is serviceable, though it does manage a touch of quite affecting melancholy in its bittersweet conclusion. End Of The World feels oddly low-budget, almost like a Flash cartoon in places, and little of the animation ever being particularly outstanding but it does showcase a fair amount of 4C's typically stunning integration of CG into more traditional 2D animation. Some of the backdrops almost rival Noiseman, and the one main CG character is equally impressive. Whilst not quite top flight Studio 4C, recommended nonetheless.

PUNCH 3: COMEDY (Kigeki), 2002, approx 10 min 30.

- A young woman in medieval Ireland remembers a bargain she struck long ago, when she asked a strange, reclusive master swordsman to protect her village from English marauders.

Comedy is not an actual period piece, unlike Hijikata Toshizou - this is more like Revolutionary Girl Utena filtered by way of 1920s silent horror, with perhaps a dash of Arthur Rackham. Hauntingly beautiful, it adopts a washed-out, flickering aesthetic reminiscent of film grain and faded watercolours, the colours mostly black and heavily overexposed white with occasional liberal splashes of red. The design work is marvellous, drawing on a kind of twisted shoujo manga look, a painterly hand in the backgrounds and even a storybook gothic vaguely reminiscent of series like Jing: King Of Bandits (which, coincidentally, Studio 4C also worked on). Many of the different shots resort to typical shortcuts to save having to animate too much but they conceal this very, very well; the few brief moments where more of the screen is animated are striking as well as impressive (a horde of mounted knights galloping full tilt) and the final set-piece, though brief, is a succession of gorgeous images both graceful and explosive.

Whilst not particularly frightening, never mind horrific, Comedy has an eerie visual power as well as a languid, unhurried pace, and the story turns out to be fairly neat and concise with a modestly thought-provoking reason why the lone swordsman would agree to the girl's bargain. It's also quite funny, once or twice, despite the title having nothing to do with the tone and there is also an air of self-deprecation about the whole thing - nowhere near parody, but one or two lines are delivered with a knowing wink that feels surprisingly appropriate. Entertaining, captivatingly beautiful and emotive, Comedy is very much recommended and easily the best of the four Sweat Punch! shorts.

PUNCH 4: HIGAN, 2002, approx 8 min 30.

- Three futuristic armoured infantrymen and a piece of motorized artillery square off in a night engagement in a forest.

The shortest of the four Sweat Punch! films, Higan doesn't contain much beyond this brief synopsis - the two sides do battle, one wins, one loses, the end. There is a twist of sorts, employed as a framing device, but nothing to give anybody pause. There is no exposition of any kind - not that this is a bad thing as such, just to illustrate how this is eight minutes or less of grim, desperate combat and not much more than that, with the entire script amounting to maybe twenty words or so.

Nonetheless, it is undeniably well directed, and showcases some superlative animation - the design work is fairly undistinguished, but this falls in quite well with the whole cold, impersonal feeling the film seems to be aiming for. The rapid ducking and diving, the trading of fire, bullets ripping things apart and explosions are all beautifully done with a deadweight finality that seems to serve as the point of the whole thing, particularly in light of the ending. It has been done before, and possibly better, but this is well done enough, succinct and affecting enough to make it worth watching.

TOSHIZO HIJIKATA: THE WHITE PATH (Hijikata Toshizou: Shiro No Kiseki), 2004, approx 32 min.

The Shinsengumi were a famous organisation - countless books, films, anime and plays have been made about them - in late shogunate Japan, in the period following the arrival of Admiral Perry's "black ships", when Japan was finally opened up to the West. They were skilled swordsmen who served the ruling Tokugawa as a kind of special police force to protect them against any uprising by rebellious factions who wanted the emperor returned to power. Utterly ruthless, bound by a strict interpretation of the samurai code of bushido, they were loyal to the Tokugawa government even beyond its collapse and most of their members fought to the death against the Meiji imperial forces. Hijikata Toshizou was the vice-commander of the Shinsengumi, and his death in 1869 is generally taken to mark their end.

The White Path is a brief biographical sketch that traces the course of his life and the evolution of the Shinsengumi. Very brief, it's both much more cursory than most of Studio 4C's work and suffers much more from budgetary constraints. The story jumps rapidly between events, with much use of intertitles to make up for the missing ground and the animation is far closer to typical television broadcast quality, with entire sequences taking place using nothing but still pans and voiceover. Character designs are serviceable but very hurried, quick sketches more than anything else. It uses a similar soft, pastel-shaded colour palette to many of the studio's other shorts, but with a much more pop art feel to it, with the artistic impact of several key moments revolving around clashing colours making it look vaguely like a cross between the Rurouni Kenshin OVAs and an episode of Samurai Champloo.

The main problem with The White Path is that it simply isn't anything like as interesting as either. The travelogue approach to the material, the relative lack of any serious exploration of rather well-worn themes, the deadpan dramatic tone and the undistinguished visuals prevent it from ever becoming truly compelling stuff. Never worse than average, it's entertaining after a fashion, with some striking moments - a flashback to Hijikata's childhood, shots of autumn foliage - and occasionally captures a mood of world-weary battle fatigue and melancholy, though this is both too little, too late and doesn't prove very emotive. It's certainly hard to recommend purchasing it to anyone other than completists. A fansubtitled version was recently released - the Japanese DVD lacks English subtitles, but is still available on import.

To buy (where available):

- Purchase Eternal Family at YesAsia
- Purchase Grasshoppa! volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4 at YesAsia
- Purchase Hijikata Toshizou at YesAsia

Further reading:

- Catsuka's website - French language, but it contains a great deal of short clips of Studio 4C's work, along with a wealth of information and multimedia on other studios and animators which may be of interest
- Tsuka's Koji Morimoto website - currently French language only, but it contains a comprehensive overview of Koji Morimoto's work
- Studio 4C on Wikipedia
- Studio 4C's official website - mostly Japanese language, though some English
- Anipages Daily - contains comprehensive filmography of Masaki Yuasa, as well as extensive articles and bibliography on Mindgame, among a great deal of more technical commentary on animation both new and old

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