Genius Party US Premiere

JAPAN! Culture + Hyperculture, the two-week long event at the Kennedy Center (Washington, DC) is in its last weekend run. More than 450 artists, 50 performances and events showcase the best in Japanese theater and dance, music and fashion, architecture and sculpture, poetry and literature, photography and film, including of course anime.

Among the slew of performances, is an exhibit dedicated to the evolution and technology of robots: Robotopia. The exhibit moves from the robots that built the foundation and place of robots in anime, to the role they can potentially play in life. The robot models on display really take the long time anime fan way back into time -- from Mazinger to Tetsujin to Gundam. And look it! Look it! It's Gundam's very own Zaku!

Several functioning robots were also featured. Kokoro's Actroid DER2 greeted visitors throughout the festival and is able to talk and answer your questions. The robot has an astonishing and almost unbelievable human-like appearance and movements, but the robot's answers and demeanor seemed almost barbie-like and stereotypically shallow. The yellow Wakamaru, Mitsubishi's robot can converse with people via voice and facial recognition and was able to shake visitor's hands...definitely a crowd favorite. Another favorite was Toyota's Parter Robot. Check out the my quick video clip below of the the robot playing his own Disney melody on the trumpet.

VIZ Media provides manga books and magazines in the Manga Cafe and Reading Lounge set up adjacent to the robot exhibits. The selections were very limited but is a nice addition to the event. I mean, how can you have an event showcasing the culture of Japan without some manga? As an added treat, Robin Nishi, manga author of "Mind Game" was on-site in a specially commissioned "Daily Manga" drawing.

And for the event of my night -- the U.S. premiere of "Genius Party," the anthology of short animated films from Studio 4°C released on back in July. It features 7 films from 7 directors that represent the best of the anime industry. "Genius Party" may not be for the casual viewer, but if anything, "Genius Party" showcases the artistic valor anime represents. While Executive Producer Eiko Tanaka was a no show, Shinichiro Watanabe made an appearance at the premiere and provided a nice introduction that stressed the fact that these directors weren't constrained with certain story and character limitations. Instead, these 7 directors were able to create what they really wanted to create. Nothing was out of bounds. "Genius Party" is definitely not your commercial anime, but shows the true scope and reaches of anime.

"Genius Party" is directed by Atusko Fukushima and is the leading story of this project. This unique piece expands from a theme based on the birth of an image, and serves as a great introduction for what's the follow. "Shanghai Dragon" (Shoji Kawamori) was hilarious and is impossible to fully explain without giving away the best part of the film. Futuristic people travel to the old city of Shanghai and encounter a drooling young boy who could hold the key to saving humanity. "Deathtic 4" (Shinji Kimura) is set in a place reminiscent to the world of "A Nightmare Before Christmas." The grotesquely cute foursome provide a comedy unlike any other. "Doorbell" (Yoji Fukuyama) sways from the comedy to the surreal. The film features a high school student who is manipulated by his other self. "Limit Cycle" (Hideki Futamura) takes a philosophical monologue approach and is breathtakingly poetic and visually stunning. Questioning and analyzing the duality and void of life, "Limit Cycle" is very mystical and takes you on a deep journey on the perspectives of life. Pay attention or you'll easily get lost on this philosophical quest. "Happy Machine" (Masaaki Yuasa) pulls viewers into the mystical world of a naive and pure baby. Shinichiro Watanabe's strays away from his normally action-filled kill fest to a simple love story with "Baby Blue." Though the films may seem like a jumble or compilation of separate films, the underlying theme they all undoubtedly share is perspective.

My favorite films would have to be the opening movie "Genius Party," "Doorbell," "Limit Cycle," "Happy Machine," and "Baby Blue." And speaking of Shinichiro Watanabe, I was fortunate enough to "run into" Mr. Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo in the halls to score me a Studio 4°C promotion flyer package, an autograph and a quick photo op. I couldn't contain my jubilation when I unexpectedly caught up with Watanabe-san looking all cool with his shades. That definitely wrapped up the night in a nice little package.

Look out for the rest of my coverage of this Japan! Culture + Hyperculture event. This weekend still brings us the "Genius Party Beyond" world premiere, Maywa Denki, and an anime marathon.

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