Running Time: 103 minutes
Genres: Action, Drama
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Studio: Studio 4°C
Version Reviewed: Fansub (read our fansub policy)
Release date: July 28, 2004 (JPN)
Rated: Unrated (appropriate for 17+)
I don't get Mind Game. It's just that simple. The frenetic pace, disproportionate designs, and unusual animation did not, at any point, result in any sort of moment of clarity for me. All they did was confuse. Yes, its defenders will try to bring up the film's "unique" visual and storytelling style, but "unique" does not always equal "good."
Created by Studio 4°C, Mind Game is the debut directing effort from former animation director Masaaki Yuasa, who had previously worked on comedy series (Crayon Shin-Chan, My Neighbors the Yamadas) and a few experimental shorts (Cat Soup, Noiseman Sound Insect). It's clear, however, that Yuasa should have never moved up from animation director, since his skills as chief director are questionable at best.
While the film could hardly be said to have a tight narrative, it does follow a relatively centralized set of main characters, namely the perverted twenty-something Nishi, his busty ex-girlfriend Myon, and her sister Yan. After an incredibly strange run-in with some Yakuza thugs, the three flee the scene of the girls' father's bar, only to find themselves swallowed by a whale. Inside they meet an old man who has lived inside the whale for years.
Did I mention that this movie is a little weird?
Mind Game is beyond weird though. The director throws consistency and clarity out the window in favor of frequent cuts to unrelated still photographs or mapping of live-action faces to animated heads. In that regard, it seems like almost all of the aspects of this movie that are seen by many critics as fascinating experimental animation techniques serve as nothing more than self-indulgent artistry from Yuasa. I honestly felt that I was missing something in the experience by not being Masaaki Yuasa, as if the film was crafted for the enjoyment of its creator, not necessarily for the enjoyment of his audience.
And therein lies the rub when it comes to this movie. It is one of the unfortunate anime that works well enough as a piece of experimental art, but fails completely as a piece of entertainment. And even when only examining it as art, it seems that quite often Yuasa is throwing in unusual animation techniques simply for the sake of being unusual.
Unfortunately, the director pulling double-duty as scriptwriter can't even hold the narrative together while he weaves live-action and animation into the pastiche that is Mind Game. Besides the horridly cliché ending, the character development also disappoints, as it seems to only occur in short bursts. For example, Nishi inexplicably stands up halfway through the movie and waxes poetic about the meaning of his life. (With the strong visual focus of Mind Game, one would think that Yuasa knows better than to weigh the film down with exposition.) On the bright side, some of the non-sequitur humor especially a particular scene with a "God" who changes shape every shot is actually pretty entertaining, though it is, like everything else in this movie, rather odd.
Naturally, there are some viewers who enjoy the insane plot and frenetic animation of 4°C's experimental works, but Mind Game often feels like some sort of exclusive club whose only member is its own creator. Do yourself a favor and pass on this exhausting, confusing experiment.