Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mind Game

Mind Game; animated fantasy tragicomedy, Japan, 2004; D: Masaaki Yuasa, S: Koji Imada, Sayaka Maeda, Takashi Fujii

Unsuccessful manga artist Nishi considers his life dormant and pointless. He loves a girl, Myon, but she openly tells him that she is considering marrying someone else. When she brings her potential suitor for a dinner at a restaurant, two Yakuzas show up and kill Nishi - who goes to an afterlife, meets God, but then refuses to stay dead and returns back to his body. There he takes the Yakuza's gun and shoots him, instead. Nishi, Myon and her sister Yan flee from the gangsters, but their car is swallowed - by a giant whale. They meet an old man there and try to make the best of their situation. Finally, they manage to escape from the whale and return home.

When a movie contains so many WTF moments like "Mind Game", it should better have either a great payoff or a great storyline. Masaaki Yuasa's anime film, unfortunately, does not have such a strong storyline to compensate for all the surreal patchwork it displayed, even though it has a quiet point which is so subtly mentioned only once near the end that it almost gets lost on the viewers. The "Romanesque" art design of the characters may not be for everyone's taste, yet the viewers will quickly get use to it. "Mind Game" shocks with the sequence where a gangster shoots and kills the crouching hero, Nishi, through his butt, thereby triggering a short fantasy subplot where the latter ends up in an afterlife and meets God (in the most expressionistic sequence of the entire film, since God changes his shape every two seconds). The twist is that through this experience, where he has nothing more to lose, Nishi suddenly decides to live with "his head high", gains courage, returns to his body - and then uses his butt cheeks to capture the gangster's gun, take it and then shoot the surprised Yakuza instead. Thanks to this "live life to the fullest" second subplot, the movie gains momentum - which it then loses when the three protagonists get stranded inside a whale - and stay there for the remaining 60 % of the film! One could argue that the philosophy of the author is mirrored there, namely to live life to the fullest even in the bleakest situations, to find something good in every situation, obvious in Nishi's pivotal monologue about leaving the whale: "I want to get out because there are so many things out there. So many different people, living different lives! Incredibly good guys, bad guys, folks completely different from us! One giant melting pot. See, it's not about success, dying in the streets, who's better, who's not. I just want to be a part of it!" This supports the film, but alas, the whale segment is still a huge waste fo time, which makes at least part of "Mind Game" appear like a stranded whale.


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