Outsider Animation By Masaaki Yuasa Colors Outside The Lines
Director Masaaki Yuasa (Netflix’s DEVILMAN crybaby) made waves in the animation market with this critically acclaimed cult oddity from Japan. Released in 2004, the anime film Mind Game is a veritable tour de force of different animation styles and exotic techniques. The daring visuals practically change frame to frame in this surreal adventure that pays little attention to standard visual storytelling practices. Don’t expect Mind Game to heed normal anime conventions. It is a startlingly unique animated experience.
The film is a carefully crafted arthouse voyage. It is more concerned with its vividly etched characters than telling a completely coherent tale. That is Mind Game’s charm and also its primary weakness. You will have to tolerate a strange, violent opening act before settling in and getting to know its off-beat vibe and quirky humor. The moments of black comedy are amusing, albeit the quick changes in tone will surely upset some viewers. This is not straightforward storytelling that spoon feeds the audience. The movie is far more concerned showing its characters’ growth and development.
There are intricate visual gags and plenty of sexual innuendo in this mature tale of two young friends that have a horrific experience with the Yakuza. That traumatic event leads to Nishi and his secret romantic crush Myon ultimately ending up in the belly of a whale. Mind Game goes to some weird places with its oddly charming story in spite of the quirks. The densely visual storytelling rewards patience, as small details in the rapidly evolving animation can play an important role in the narrative.
… some of the most innovative and weirdly fresh animation seen in recent decades
… some of the most innovative and weirdly fresh animation seen in recent decades
Is Mind Game a case of style over substance? That is always a worry when you hear an animated film is hailed as groundbreaking. The art direction and animation have some nigh brilliant moments, some of the most innovative and weirdly fresh seen in recent decades. Mind Game is experimental in nature and a few of the set-pieces don’t work as well as intended. Animation lovers looking for something different and wildly creative will cozy right up to Mind Game’s playful sense of humor and intriguing characters.
Mind Game is Pop Art as much as it’s a cinematic experience, which may put mainstream audiences off to its unique ethos. The intentionally sloppy, even ugly, character designs are an intriguing point. It would be interesting to find out Masaaki Yuasa’s reasoning behind them.
The film is possibly too unconventional for mainstream audiences. What saves Mind Game are the incredibly ambitious animation techniques on display and a heartwarming tale of found love with the right underlying message. It explores serious themes often through visual metaphors. Nishi meets God when he ends up dead (spoiler: he’s not really dead) for one of the more visually inspired moments.
Mind Game has been made with animation enthusiasts in mind looking to push the medium’s conventional storytelling limits. While its pure aesthetic appeal may not rival the latest and greatest Studio Ghibli anime films, the sheer variety and scope are impressive for the 2004 anime. Prepare for a burst of different animation styles like you’ve never seen before in Mind Game, together in one wild ride.
Forgoing the safe, traditional art mold of most Japanese animation, shifting character designs and loose line art characterize Mind Game. More arthouse than commercial in nature by design, its vividly imaginative art incorporates hidden visual gags, sexual innuendo, and even off-putting scenes. Everything holds together somehow as the animation shifts and bends to fit each scene in harmony.
The Japanese production has been hailed as a visionary masterpiece of animation by several places, pushing a surreal melting pot of dense imagery that constantly engages the audience. Director Masaaki Yuasa’s animated film looks like no other anime ever made.
Art styles bend and twist together in chaotic combinations. The animation employs everything from rotoscoped photographs of actual people to primitive polygonal techniques when necessary. It’s a visual tour de force that mashes up an almost relentless number of different animation techniques and styles, mostly eschewing the clean lines and saturated colors of regular anime. The imagery ranges from the bizarre and ugly, to beautiful bursts of swirling colors. Scenes switch so quickly it’s hard even keeping up some of the time. The narrative definitely plays a role in altering the mood and tone of each animated sequence.
The 103-minute main feature arrives on a BD-50 in a perfect AVC encode. GKIDS has been wonderful at bringing world animation to Blu-ray and Mind Game looks fantastic in 1080P resolution. Mind Game is presented at its native 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The movie can’t look any better than this disc. It is a top-notch digital transfer that transparently replicates the movie’s idiosyncratic animation.
The Japanese audio comes in fine 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound with more emphasis on the front soundstage. Mind Game’s score is courtesy of Japanese musician Seiichi Yamamoto. It has stirringly appropriate music for an anime production constantly changing its animation style. Fitting the chaotic visuals of the corresponding animation, Mind Game’s exciting instrumental soundtrack is enjoyable and adds a great deal to the film’s entertainment value.
The surround mix has strong imaging across the front channels. Some bass is present, if a tad weak. The audio design comes alive when the time is right, as when Nishi and friends attempt to escape a whale’s mouth. Dialogue is a little muddled, sometimes quieter than the background score and audio effects. Immersion is adequate, sparingly using the surround channels for anything more than ambient support.
Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles display in a white font. The English subtitles offer a decent encapsulation of the Japanese dialogue, though it skips using honorifics.
The two-disc set courtesy of animation label GKIDS and their distributor Shout Factory includes both Blu-ray and DVD versions. A glossy slipcover has been made available.
Mind Game Trailer (01:44 in HD)
Film Animatic (103:10 in HD) – This may be a first. Animatics aren’t uncommon as special features. Feature-length animatics for a movie are virtually unheard of, but that is what we get for Mind Game. The animatic plays in a small box in the bottom right corner as the movie runs. It’s a very neat bonus feature that shows just how close the film’s final animation was inspired by the rougher animatic drawings. Worth studying for those budding animators in the audience.
Scenes With Director’s Commentary (31:26 in HD) – Director Masaaki Yuasa gives his thoughts in Japanese (English subtitles are provided) over several select scenes in the movie. His attention to detail is phenomenal, breaking down each scene practically frame-by-frame. This featurette is almost necessary viewing after seeing Mind Game for a better understanding. You will be blown away by the visual references he’s inserted into the movie. It provides so much insight into the characters that it helped change my opinion on Mind Game.
Production Artwork Galleries – The following sets of related production images help delve into the craft of animating Mind Game.
Background Designs (02:33 in HD) – A series of 30 images that can be manually advanced or will automatically advance after time lapses.
Character Designs (03:03 in HD) – A series of 36 images that can be manually advanced or moves on their own.
Mechanics and Props (02:23 in HD) – A series of 28 images that can be manually advanced.
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Director Masaaki Yuasa’s animated cult classic is a wild visual ride that takes some getting used to but delivers an interesting journey for its likable characters.
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