SECRET SANTA REVIEW
(Mostly spoiler free)
Studio 4°C is widely regarded for its involvement with animated works that stand apart from the mainstream (see Arete Hime, Detroit Metal City, Memories). At times they’ve dabbled in the experimental and here with Mind Game directed by Masaaki Yuasa, we see this fully realised. This film is an unbridled and unabashed showcasing of ambition. Beneath a sometimes confounding visual spectacle, lies a heart warming tale about (some absurd) trials and tribulations of life resulting in a simple take home message. Live it.
Visually speaking, the film packs a punch. One should not expect the usual anime aesthetic so it does pay to keep in mind the avant-garde nature of the film, lest you want to endure befuddlement. There is much variation; colour palettes are tinkered with, CGI inserted here and there, live action images interspersed, characters bent out of shape and warped camera angles. Some of the time this is inviting and engaging while at other times it is intentionally repulsive and grotesque, at the least, irises are certainly kept on edge. Due to the sheer level of detail there are many memorable images and scenes. Particular highlights include the balloon dance and paint, the sex scene and the Great Whale Escape.
Within this celebration of visual schizophrenia we have a cast of characters fronted by a man named Nishi. He is a down trodden loser. At the beginning of the film, he merely watches on as the love of his life, Myon is courted by a strong and handsome suitor. His defeatist internal monologues are what initially define Nishi. Whilst sitting at a restaurant with Myon, her sister Yan, Myon’s suitor and the sister’s father, a pair of Yakuza thugs join the party. In the following blackly humorous yet unfortunate scene the wheels of absurdity are set in motion and here the story takes off.
To spoil exactly what transpires would take away the fun. Suffice to say, Nishi is given time to reflect on his pathetic existence. A second chance to be proactive, to right the wrongs, to win Myon! From here we are treated to a strange turn of events that see Nishi, Myon, Yan and an Old Man confined. Throughout this period, they live, laugh, cry, yearn and dance together.
We begin to see Nishi overcome some of his pessimism and loser status. A question remains as to whether he does so completely. But during the group’s confinement, another arguably more important question is raised as to whether Nishi’s new beginning was really so important. Mind Game posits the old notion of the journey versus the destination. By the film’s end, the journey looks like a hell of a lot more fun.
The title of the film promises some mindfuckery and at the end of it we are left scratching our heads, with the sentence ‘This Story Has Never Ended’ flashed on screen. Clues for just what this means, however, are to be found at the beginning and ending of the film both of which show a few minutes of a quickly paced montage featuring some scenes from the film squished together (some of these are also slightly altered). In the first montage Myon has her foot caught while trying to board a train, in the second montage Myon boards the train. Had she boarded the first time around, the movie may have taken a different course. Essentially this implies that even little moments may have a significant effect on the outcomes in life. Events can take a turn at any time. Taken in lieu of Mind Game’s rambunctious antics, this final mindfuckery highlights the overall life affirming message of the film, whatever happens, enjoy life and live it to the fullest.