Studio 4°C was a creative juggernaut during the late 1990s and 2000s. Through their various productions in the form of series, films, music videos, commercials and not least anthologies, the spearhead of founders Eiko Tanaka and Koji Morimoto delivered a wave of some of the era’s most visually exhilarating pieces of animation. And if one were to pinpoint a title that marked the beginning of this wave, it would be Morimoto’s directorial breakthrough with the music video for Ken Ishii’s single Extra. Not only did the collaboration with the seminal Japanese techno producer become an international hit – receiving the award for Dance Video of the Year for MTV Europe, and being nominated for the International Viewer’s Choice Award for MTV Japan (McClure, 1997: 76; Ronald, 2015) – but it also vividly encapsulates what would stylistically and creatively come to define the output of Morimoto in particular, as well as Studio 4°C in general.
Extra may not be as narratively comprehensible as the studio’s later music video productions, even though some form of plot thread can be deciphered, involving a hero’s assassination of a robot serial child killer and subsequent confrontation of a street gang through a VR-like remote helmet. But the video is ultimately less focused on its story than on its aesthetics. We are here presented with a vibrant and colorful cyberpunk metropolis, reminiscent of Blade Runner or Akira. We do not, however, explore the neon-lit city via sensual neo-noir or apocalyptic grandiosity. Instead we enter ”the Asian back alley world” (Studio 4°C) in a marriage between street grime à la Tekkonkinkreet and psychedelia à la (excuse the anachronism) Enter the Void. Brutal instances of crime and violence are expressively intermingled with flashing lights, negative colors, energetic camera movements, and edits of slow motion and abstracting dissolves.
Many of Morimoto’s trademarks are present here. 3D modeling is used for much of the backgrounds, allowing for a rich sense of depth and space, which the camerawork constantly utilizes. The designs are incredibly detailed and imaginative; from the giant cylindrical VR-helmet, to the Frankenstein-esque robot dolls, to the slick clothing and color scheme of the biker – not to mention the little we see of the rich city landscape. Additionally, the video is filled with scenes and images that only last for a few seconds, but which are elaborate enough in style and character to warrant – indeed teasingly so – their own extended narratives. As with so many of Morimoto’s works, we are presented with a brief yet effective glimpse into an implied world of immensely fantastic wonder.
And of course, it must not go unmentioned how incredibly well the music accompanies all of this. Ken Ishii’s Extra is an exciting EDM track that mixes techno beats and synths with deep ambience and acoustically big percussion sampling, for which an aesthetically lush excursion into a slummy yet vibrant cyberpunk metropolis couldn’t be more fitting. The directing is furthermore beautifully synchronized with the musical arrangement. Take for example how slow motion along with murky editing and camerawork is incorporated during the track’s more ambient passages, or how a hovering shot over the staggering city landscape is emphasized by its juxtaposition with the re-entrance of the percussion sample.
Like a dense collage of aesthetic expressivity, Extra is stylish, lush and colorful. With a runtime of just under four minutes, it is a great entrance point to the incredible world of Morimoto and Studio 4°C.
Extra can be accessed in its entirety through Koji Morimoto’s official website:
“Extra”, Studio 4°C Works, Studio 4°C, <http://www.studio4c.co.jp/works/en/pages/02.html>
McClure, Steve, “Techno Emerges From Shadows In Japan”, Billboard, Nielsen Business Media, Inc., pp. 1, 76, 79, 2/8/1997, <https://books.google.se/books?id=wA4EAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA76&ots=_TE8ma2F2n&dq=MTV+Europe%27s+%22Dance+Video+of+the+Year%22&pg=PA76&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=MTV%20Europe’s%20%22Dance%20Video%20of%20the%20Year%22&f=false>
Ronald, “Remembering The MTV Video Music Awards’ International Viewer’s Choice Award for MTV Japan”, ARAMA! JAPAN, 2015, <http://aramajapan.com/news/music/remembering-the-mtv-video-music-awards-international-viewers-choice-award-for-mtv-japan/22090/2/>