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Mind Game

Entry updated 31 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (2004). Based on the Manga by Robin Nishi. Studio 4°C. Directed and written by Masaaki Yuasa. Voice cast includes Takashi Fujii, Koji Imada, Sayaka Maeda and Seiko Takuma. 103 minutes. Colour.

After an opening fast-cut montage, set to ominous music, of events surrounding the life of 20 year old aspiring manga artist Nishi (Imada), we see him running into his old school crush, Myon (Maeda). Then their relationship had gone nowhere because of his indecisiveness; now they go a bar – but whilst there two yakuza arrive looking for the proprietor: one sexually assaults Myon as Nishi cowers, then shoots Nishi in the anus.

Dead Nishi meets God (see Religion), who takes many forms: they tell him there is no afterlife (see Eschatology): "Time's up. Go straight that way [pointing] and keep walking. You'll soon disappear". Up to this point Nishi has been whining, but now he decides to run the other way, rightly assuming it will restore him to life and swearing he will do better this time. God is encouraging: "Give it your best shot." Returning to the point before his death, he finds the gun so firmly jammed between his cheeks he can pull it from his assailant's hands and shoot him. Now rashly overconfident ("No cops, no questions, no regrets! I'm through with that,"), he steals the attackers' car and drives off with Myon and her sister, Yang (Takuma). A prolonged high-speed car chase follows which ends in their being swallowed by a whale, therein meeting an old man (Fujii) who has lived in its stomach for 30 years ("Do Robots exist now?") and, by scavenging swallowed items, has made a comfortable home. This is the main section of the film, where they settle into an agreeable life, exploring their previously undeveloped ambitions.

One day Nishi tells Myon an sf story about a Spaceship crew crashing on a planet inhabited by giant Dinosaur-like Monsters; the only thing edible is the monsters' excrement – recalling Barrington J Bayley's "Planet of the Stercorasaurs" (August 2000 Interzone) – though it then turns into a tale which mirrors recent events and displays Nishi's increased maturity; the time spent in the whale has enabled Myon and Yang to grow too. However, the whale is old and dying (a small plesiosaur and other extinct creatures also live in its stomach). The four humans work together and devise a means of escape; as they emerge from the whale we see a montage of their possible futures, followed by an expansion of the opening montage (now with cheerful backing music) showing how the histories of the characters are intertwined, followed by the sign: "This story has never ended".

Fast-paced, eccentric (see Absurdist SF) and experimental, using a spirited mixture of animation styles, Mind Game is a memorable Anime – and optimistic too, providing the whole tale is not the daydream of the second yakuza, which is a possible interpretation. It won several Awards both in Japan and internationally: these include the animation grand prize at the 2004 Japan Media Arts Festival and five awards at the 2005 Fantasia Festival in Canada, including best film, best director (tied) and best script. [SP]


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