Review for Mind Game
It might be irony that a movie named Mind Game has kept slipping my mind ever since I first heard of it. It must have been some ten years ago that I first read about director Masaaki Yuasa’s debut feature, when I read a review of the Australian DVD release. I made a mental note to import the disc and promptly mislaid the note. A few months later, I was wracking my brain as to the title of that wacky sounding anime film that I wanted to import when I read another article about it, enough to jog my memory and make another mental note, which I promptly forgot. There’s just something about the words, ‘Mind Game’ that are more slippery than an eel. It’s a pattern that has continued to play out, even with the news that All the Anime had set up a kickstarter for the Blu-ray, the subsequent announcement of the retail release, even to the point where when the check disc finally fell on my doormat, it came as a surprise. Last night, in the mood for an anime movie, I could swear that I had nothing to review, and was going to grab an old movie to re-watch, when for a change my eyes didn’t slip past the check disc, and I finally picked up Mind Game to watch and to review. I just hope that I haven’t forgotten what I watched now that I get round to writing about it.
Nishi isn’t having the best day. Running into his childhood sweetheart Myon could have been good, only she’s getting married, to someone else. The prospect of ‘what if’ persuades him to accept an invite to her family’s restaurant, only to meet the hunky rival, who infuriatingly turns out to be a good guy. The day gets worse when a couple of yakuza show up and start throwing their weight around, and Nishi becomes the only man who can be shot in the ass and still have his brains blown out. Doing the exact opposite of what God tells him gives him the chance for a do-over, but going on the run from the yakuza with Myon and her sister Yan isn’t much of an improvement, and neither is what they crash into...
The film gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this single layer disc. You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with English or French subtitles. The image is clear and sharp, with consistent colours, although there is an issue with banding in darker scenes. Given where much of the film takes place, it’s more of an issue then you might be expecting. The animation style is certainly not traditional anime, with a free-flowing hand drawn feel, a melange of fast-paced imagery, and a degree of collage as well. It feels more European than Japanese, and I wasn’t surprised to see Michael Arias’ name in the credits; I certainly had twinges of the Tekkonkinkreet while watching the film. The audio is fine, the surround effective, but the subtitles are limited in what they translate, usually the primary dialogue. When there are two conversations happening simultaneously, some dialogue isn’t translated, and neither is some of the on-screen text.
In terms of extras, all there is on the disc is a gallery, divided into three slideshows which together run for barely two minutes.
I am a little lost for words, although it’s nothing as simple as my Mind Game amnesia. I just have a hard time categorising what I just watched. Mind Game is supposedly autobiographical, based on the original manga by Robin Nishi, although it’s as loose a definition of autobiographical as possible. The aspiring mangaka I can see, the unrequited love is also realistic, the yakuza encounter less so, and when it comes to the old man and his unique living circumstances, it’s a taller tale than Gulliver’s. Mind Game offers shifting perspectives and a non-linear narrative, suffused with surreal visuals and whimsical flights of fancy. It starts off as unreal and fantastic, and it gets more and more bizarre from there. There is a game being played, and it’s with the minds of the audience.
And yet there is a story to the film, a narrative that you can grab on to (and subsequently hold on for dear life). The far-fetched adventures of Nishi begin with a simple reunion with his childhood sweetheart Myon, and it quickly becomes clear that his one-sided love for her was never requited because of his own wimpiness. That’s emphasised when he meets the yakuza and he’s frozen in fear, unable to help Myon and her family. The first rite of passage is to lose that fear, and to overcome his cowardice, which leads to a spectacular car chase as he, Myon and her sister Yan flee from the yakuza.
The flight doesn’t end well, and the three of them wind up trapped with an old man who’s found some self-sufficiency in his outlandish confinement, and is happy to share his captivity with genuine human beings. It’s another rite for Nishi, and for Myon and Yan, as they have to shuck their worldly concerns and discover who they really are inside. Eventually they have the chance to escape, to be reborn, in a montage of imagery, of potentiality that makes you question the whole film that you’ve just watched, and will convince you that you have to watch the whole thing again to make proper sense of it.
Mind Game is mythical, cyclical, scatological, and I’m not quite sure as to whether I enjoyed it or not, at least not yet. It’s going to take me a few viewings to get my head around the story that Masaaki Yuasa is telling, although I have to say that the hype train that surrounds Mind Game seems to have passed me by. The sheer fact that it is so visually disconnected from the average anime production that you are likely to see, makes Mind Game worth seeking out to watch, just for that reason alone.