Studio 4°C: anime that is dense with substance
November 14, 2011 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Studio 4°C is a Japanese animation studio, named for the temperature at which water is most dense, which they convey in their creative manifesto: "create only works that are dense with substance and extreme quality." The studio has produced a range of works, from commercials (Honda Edix | Nike iD REALCITY) and music videos (Ken Ishii - 'Extra' [prev] | Utada Hikaru - 'Fluximation'), to animated series (The Adventures of Tweeny Witches | Thundercats reboot [prev]) and feature-length films (Memories [1995] | Mind Game [2004]). More on their movies inside.

The Studio 4°C animation studio was formed in 1986 by Eiko Tanaka. As the studio was only Tanaka for a while, the first two credits to Studio 4°C are My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, where Tanaka served as a line producer under the direction of Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli (prev). The first production from the little studio was in 1989, with a take on Jack and the Beanstalk, but it would be another 6 years until the studio really made a name for themselves as the producers of dense, visual stories.

In 1995, Memories brought together a number of notable artists to create three separate films under one heading. The first film, Magnetic Rose, is a space opera of sorts, and is based on a story by Katsuhiro Otomo (maker of the Akira manga, amongst other notable works). The script is by the noted anime director Satoshi Kon (prev), directed by Koji Morimoto, and features music by Yoko Kanno. The next film, Stink Bomb, is a comedic story of accidental chemical warfare, and is the directorial debut by anime storyboarder and animator, Tensai Okamura. Katsuhiro Otomo scripted the second film, and wrote and directed the third film, Cannon Fodder. This last film is a day in the life of a boy, set in a land that is constantly at war with an unseen and distant aggressor. (early pilot/teaser [5:29, YouTube] | US blended trailer, which mixes the three parts into one almost non-sensical trailer [2:16, YT] | complete movie with English hard subs [1:53:26, AniLinkz])

Three years later, Studio 4°C released an adaptation of a manga series called Spriggan. The film, which has been classified as "classic [1990s] anime," has hard-hitting action, a dark, metaphysical plot, and even a dose of Indiana Jones-style "archeology" and adventure. Mysterious international forces trying to gain unknown power through ancient technologies, that kind of thing. (English trailer [YT, 1:19] | full movie, English dub [YT, 1:25:09])

Heading in a different direction, the studio's next feature film is based on an original fairytale that provides an alternative to conventional princess fairy tales, with a clever, active, and self-reliant, princess (Google Quickview / original pdf). Diane Coles' The Clever Princess was published in England in 1983, and translated into Japanese in 1989, where it was widely read, and adapted into plays and musicals. In 2001, Studio 4°C released their version, titled Princess Arete, which was likened to Studio Ghibli productions, but was faulted by some as being paced too slowly. (Japanese trailer [YT, 2:05] | whole fansubbed movie in 8 parts [HD YT, ~1hr 45min])

The studio returned to manga for source material with their 2004 film, Mind Game. Based on manga of the same name by Nishi Robin (not to be confused with the shōjo manga by Shiina Ayumi), studio head Eiko Tanaka directed the film, after she read the odd manga. "It wasn’t very popular, but I liked the main character, Nishi, who takes control of his life," said Tanaka. Regarding the content and style of the film, she said:
In order to be successful, the future of Japanese animation needs to expand beyond children and family entertainment. Mind Game is very adult. It’s fairly mature and contains sex and violence.
And it's only a 'normal' movie for the first portion, then things get absurd. Consider yourself warned. (Japanese trailer [YT, 1:51] | full fansubbed movie [Megavideo, 1:43:26 / Veoh sample, full movie viewable with plugin])

2005 saw the culmination of a decade-long endeavor: the release of Steamboy, a steampunk tale of a young inventor who must use an invention created by his grandfather and father to fight evil, redeem his family, and save London from destruction. The movie, written by Katsuhiro Otomo and Sadayuki Murai (known for Millennium Actress) is full of exciting and entertaining action, but a bit shallow when compared the prior work of the big names attached. (Japanese short trailer [YT, 1:40] | Japanese extended trailer [YT, 6:02] | English trailer [YT, 1:34] | full movie with English dub [YT, 2:01:19] | full movie with English subtitles [MegaVideo, 2:06:43])

The next year, Studio 4°C released something more similar to their past works:
Tekkonkinkreet, the story of two orphaned brothers, living on the streets of Treasure Town, who try to save the city from yakuza who want to turn the city into an amusement park. Based on the manga Tekkon Kinkrete: Black & White, the movie marks the first time a US director (Michael Arias) has gone to Japan to direct a complete movie, at the Japanese studio, but the results are mixed. Falling short of the style of the manga, but still retaining a unique style, avoiding stereotypical character designs. Add to the visuals a soundtrack by electronic musicians, Plaid, who even performed the soundtrack live on occasion. Taking it further, there is also a remixed version of the soundtrack. ( English trailer [YT, 2:10] | full movie with English subtitles [official YT movie, 1:50:49] | previously: Art of TekkonKinkreet)

The latest work from Studio 4°C was a collaboration with Molot Entertainment on a film called First Squad. Set in World War II, the story is about a squad of Soviet teenagers with special abilities, fighting against Nazis who are attempting to resurrect the supernatural 12th-century crusaders, the Order of the Sacred Cross, with live-action [that] serves to add that bit of extra depth to the setting. The film was precluded by a music video in 2005: "Наша с тобой победа" ("Our victory") by Russian rap artist Ligalize. The film was released in 2009, and features music by Japanese turntablist/producer DJ Krush. (English subtitled trailer [YT, 2:19] | English subbed movie [various hosts, ~70 minutes])
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
The short that turned me on to Stupid 4°C in the first place is called Comedy.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:54 AM on November 14, 2011

Some additions: There's several fantastic short films, short series and short film collections produced or animated by them, such as Digital Juice, Eternal Family, Noiseman Sound Insect, Sweat Punch, Amazing Nuts and more recently, though I've yet to see these, Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond.

They've also produced Detroit Metal City, which isn't all that substantial, but amazing in its own right.
posted by halcy at 10:58 AM on November 14, 2011

I started to watch Mind Game on MV, but it looked so good I think I'll wait for the blu-ray. Is there an official version I can buy, or is the fan dub all there is right now?
posted by dgaicun at 11:04 AM on November 14, 2011

I always felt like Mahou Shoujo Tai Arusu (Magical Girl Squad Alice) was hamstrung in the US market by the name "Tweeny Witches." I mean, seriously, what were they thinking? It sounds like it should be Ojamajo Doremi when it's more like ... okay I don't know what it's like but it's really, really not like Ojamajo Doremi.
posted by darksasami at 11:05 AM on November 14, 2011

Just a reminder, the December Awesome Post contest doesn't open for another 16 days.
posted by pwnguin at 11:22 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

HZSF, halcy, I was thinking of going all-out and linking up EVERYTHING I could find, but realized that would be madness. Thanks for mentioning those other gems.

dgaicun - CD Japan lists the Japanese import DVD (with English subtitles) for $60 USD, or $155 for a limited edition version, but they're not showing any BluRay for the title. There may be legitimate shops where you can get it for less, but probably not a lot less. Otherwise, there's the bootleg route, and fansubs.

darksasami - thanks for that comment. Catering Japanese programs to US audiences is odd, especially with the youthful shows.

pwnguinb - don't worry, I have more =)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:24 AM on November 14, 2011

I was just about to recommend Comedy, but I see Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish beat me to it. Utterly bonkers if you stop to think about it, but still brilliantly entertaining. I'll watch pretty much anything these guys are involved with.

(Although it's something of a shame that Steamboy is one of their most well-known works, since it's regarded as being an infamous dud among most anime fans.)
posted by anaximander at 12:13 PM on November 14, 2011

I was thinking of going all-out and linking up EVERYTHING I could find, but realized that would be madness

Whoa. You changed, man! .. ha ha I'm just joshin' around. What an amazing post, and timely - I watched Tekkonkinkreet for um, maybe the 20th time yesterday. That film is a world unto itself! Different parts of it were designed by different art directors (or so my japanese friend said). It turns from kid's story into hardcore yakuza movie almost imperceptibly... at first. Which is way before the seriously surreal stuff starts... Also I haven't laughed as much for ages as when watching Detroit Metal City. Studio 4C are legend, they strike me as sort of an edgy complementary to Miyazaki's work.
posted by yoHighness at 12:19 PM on November 14, 2011

Tekkonkinkreet & Mind Game are both awesome. I'll have to check out some of the others.
posted by juv3nal at 12:42 PM on November 14, 2011

Fun fact: 4°C is also the temperature of your refrigerator.
posted by maryr at 12:47 PM on November 14, 2011

I was totally prepared to ignore the hell out of the Thundercats reboot, (having hated the original) but, if 4°C is involved, I will be paying very close attention.

And bonus points to you, flt, for finding links to Mind Game. I've been having some difficulty tracking it down.
posted by lekvar at 1:04 PM on November 14, 2011

lekvar, I was surprised that Studio 4°C would be involved with the Thundercats reboot, but they've done a lot of commercial work, too. While I haven't seen more than the teaser trailer, this review makes it sound like a show adults could enjoy (at least, adults who like animation, but weren't particularly fond of the original series). Where they only reviewed the first two episodes, this review makes it sound like the show returns to morality tales as things progress, but this season isn't over yet.

As for the Mind Games link, there are more streaming video sources than those listed by Google video search results. Search for [title] streaming and you can find more sites.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:14 PM on November 14, 2011

according to this Transformers wiki, they also did work for the Transformers Animated series, the first two seasons of which were brilliant (and the less said about the third the better). which makes me think I might watch the Thundercats reboot.
posted by spindle at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2011

I've seen every episode of the Thundercats reboot so far except the most recent.

At the show's best, it provides some very interesting one-off stories. "The Duelist and the Drifter" is probably the highlight so far. Oddly, those episodes are probably better than the plot-focused ones, which have mostly tended to be by-the-numbers cartoon action schlock. (Although it was cool when they presented ths version of Thundercats' backstory, they threw in little references to two of the original's sibling Rankin-Bass shows of the time, Tiger Sharks and Silverhawks.)
posted by JHarris at 2:56 PM on November 14, 2011

(Post that is dense with substance.)

The incomparable Benjamin Ettinger of anipages daily is an ardent fan of Yuasa's Mind Game, and has written/commented at length of the Studio 4°C oeuvre.
posted by progosk at 2:59 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love 4°C, and this post is overwhelmingly fantastic.

Masaaki Yuasa's work outside 4°C is definitely worth watching, as well; Kaiba and Kemonozume are both great, if flawed (and incredibly weird), but The Tatami Galaxy is my favorite. It manages to strike a nice balance between creative weirdness and touching, funny sweetness in a way that his other films all kind of try to but don't quite ever do.
posted by byanyothername at 5:48 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good lord, yes to Kaiba and Kemonozume. I wasn't aware of The Tatami Galaxy. Got any good links you'd like to share?
posted by lekvar at 6:09 PM on November 14, 2011

The Tatami Galaxy appears to be streaming for free on FUNimation's website, and they were originally posted an hour after the original Japanese airings, in an agreement with Fuji TV. (And I say "appears to be streaming" because this computer isn't playing nicely with all streaming video sites.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:37 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Tatami Galaxy looks to be available on Hulu.
posted by maryr at 11:26 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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