Tuesday, August 19, 2008

REVIEW: Mind Game - Masaaki Yuasa (2004)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

How do you start reviewing a film like Masaaki Yuasa’s “Mind Game”? I could say things like Yuasa has managed to create the cinematic equivalent of LSD, that it is the best film ever to have been set in the belly of a whale, that it stands with “The Egyptian Book of the Dead” and “The Divine Comedy” in depicting the perils a human soul can go through. “Don’t you think that praise is a bit excessive?” you might ask. I don’t think so. You see, I remember how I walked around in a haze for several hours after seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful, Oscar winning “Spirited Away”. That animated film had taken me away to some other world for a short time and I was both thrilled and sad, thrilled that I was able to take that trip, but sad that I couldn’t return to that world (at least not until I bought the DVD). I never thought I’d encounter another animated film like that again. I almost did with Mamoru Oshii’s “Innocence”, but not quite. I thought Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika” might have the same effect, but it didn’t. No, I had to wait for “Mind Game”. Watching it I got that same feeling of awe and wonder again.

The thing is though that it is nearly impossible to describe this thing in words. I was on the phone with a friend and I tried to just tell her the basic plot, but I realized that I was sounding like a little kid making up a story as I went along: “So there’s a boy named Nishi who’s in love with a girl named Myon and they meet on the subway… and then they go to her sister’s restaurant, but some bad men come and they try and hurt Myon… and then they kill Nishi and he goes to heaven and meets god… but then he comes back and steals the bad men’s car and the bad men chase him and Myon and her sister… and then they drive off a bridge and into the ocean and they’re swallowed by a whale!” See what I mean? But that’s exactly what happens! And once they’re in the belly of the whale what do you think happens? Well, what usually happens in the belly of a whale; they eat gourmet sushi, frolic with prehistoric animals, and learn that even though the world’s a scary, dangerous place where you can get killed by yakuza it’s also a beautiful place too. You’d be forgiven if you thought I’d lost my mind comparing what sounds pretty lame on the page to “Spirited Away”.

Maybe the comparison between Miyazaki and this film isn’t entirely fair. The fact that they are both animated films from Japan is the only commonality here… that and the wild creativity involved in the production of both. I wouldn’t even describe “Mind Game” as an anime film, at least not in the traditional sense. First time director Yuasa doesn’t stay safe; he exhibits loopy and lightning fast editing at the beginning and the end of the film, goes off on hilarious narrative tangents, and never falls back on the familiar anime style choosing instead to pull out all the stops using gestural lines, bold colours, rotoscoping, collage, and computer animation create a work of art that is damn near impossible to categorize.

So once again I am thrilled and sad, but mostly sad because unlike “Spirited Away” I can’t just run out and buy the DVD to relive the experience over and over again. Released in Japan in 2004 there has yet to be a region 1 DVD release of this film! It’s a crime, and one that I hope is remedied soon. The studio that produced “Mind Game”, 4°C, also produced the now widely available “Tekkon Kinkrett”. One can only hope that a successful DVD release of that film might convince a brave distributor to pick up “Mind Game” here in North America. I hope. I pray…

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