Mind Game (2004)
By: Paul Ryan on May 25, 2009  | 
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 99 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Starring: Koji Imada, Sayaka Maeda, Takashi Fuji, Seiko Takuma
Screenplay: Masaaki Yuasa
Country: Japan
External Links
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Confession time: this writer isn't much of a fan of anime. Yours truly is an admirer of the films of Studio Ghibli, and has - in my teen years - enjoyed the likes of Giant Robo and Cyber City Oedo 808. Ultimately though, my experience of anime was largely soured by run-ins with too much material which was puerile, repulsive, or a combination of both (yes Overfiend, I'm looking at you). As such, this is a genre I've tended to dismiss out of hand for a long time. But then along comes a film which didn't just challenge my preconceived notions of anime, but completely and totally expands, rewrites and redefines the potential of animated film.

That film is Mind Game.

A synopsis really doesn't convey the essence of Mind Game. Its story centres on young, awkward Nishi (based, more or less on author Robin Nishi, from whose manga series this was adapted), who has spent years longing for his childhood friend Myon, but has never plucked up the courage to tell her his feelings. Catching up as adults, Nishi is fatally caught in the crossfire when Yakuza loan sharks attack her father's restaurant. Finding himself in Limbo, Nishi begs God for a second chance at life, which is granted. Upon returning to the world of the living, Nishi rescues Myon, and her older, wiser sister Yang, and goes on the run. This leads to an unexpected escape in to the belly of a whale, and an encounter with a mysterious old chap named Gramps, who has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades…

Like I said, describing the plot doesn't do the film justice at all. This is a film of amazingly imaginative images, pulsating with creativity, energy and wit. At times funny, haunting, touching, and silly, this is quite unlike any film you have ever seen, which is a great compliment in itself. The animation is an eclectic mix of traditional hand-drawn artwork (itself varying in design from shot to shot), CGI and live action rotoscoping. The effect is exhilaratingly dream-like, with objects and characters shifting appearance with dizzying frequency. Densely packed with detail, it is a film that demands multiple viewings, and can be interpreted any number of ways.

Serving as the directorial debut of animator Masaaki Yuasa, Mind Game may well herald the start of a truly amazing body of work. Even if it doesn't, this is a truly remarkable film and deserves to be much better known.
Not a single complaint to be had here. Mind Game is presented in a beautiful anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. The extensive colour palette and varied animations styles are impressively rendered on this disc. Just stunning.
Likewise, the Dolby 5.1 audio track is top-notch.
Extra Features
Mind Game comes in a two-disc release that is packed-to-bursting with bonus material.

Special Interview (23:18m): A series of interviews with Yuasa, Robin Nishi, animator Koji Morimoto, composer Seiichi Yamamoto, and cast member Takashi Fuji. Generally this is quite interesting, with the themes of both the film and Nishi's original manga discussed at length.

Final Sequence Director's Commentary (31:36m): Not what you initially expect, this is more than your usual commentary piece. Yuasa takes the viewer through the info-packed final sequence, explaining each mini-story in detail, and the sequence as a whole. Frequently Yuasa pauses the film to discuss each part, as he describes this sequence as a look at multiple possible futures for each character. While it isn't necessary to see this feature to enjoy the film, it does expand one's appreciation of the story, and the film as a whole, and is definitely worth checking out.

Animatic (103:11m): The entire film presented in rough animatic form. Given the extensive variety of techniques used here, this is more interesting than the usual variety of animatics. Like most of the extras on this DVD, it is presented in 4x3.

Event and Talks (26:30m): A series of press conference/Q & A events promoting the film. Different cast and crew turn up in each clip, and offer various comments on the film. The actors are pretty much there to hawk the film, and do so accordingly, but the commentary from the behind-the-scenes personnel tends to be far more interesting.

CG Works (15:00m): A look at how CGI, traditional animation, and live action footage are combined across several key sequences, showing just how much work goes into a film like this.

Mind Game Theme Live Performance (2:40m): Seiichi Yamamoto and band perform the title theme live, with images of the film projected in the background. The music is good, but the video itself is fairly static. Still, seeing the music performed live is worthwhile.

Music Video (2:39m): Same music as above, but in music video form. Letterboxed clips from the movie are overlaid with garish, 80s-style video effects. Nothing here you'll likely watch again really.

Production Art Gallery: 18 character design sketches, which are worthwhile for the curious, though whether you'll look at them more than once is a matter of personal preference.

Trailers: A swag of bonus trailers for other animated titles from Madman, featuring Vexille, Spriggan, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, FLCL Collection, Akira, Appleseed Ex-Machina, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, Tintin and I, Aachi & Ssipak and Fears of the Dark. Phew!
The Verdict
It's rare to be able to call a movie a genuine original, but that's what Mind Game is. This is an incredible, one-of-a-kind achievement, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Madman's DVD compliments the film with superb audio and video and extensive extras. Go see it NOW!!!!
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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