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MINDGAME: Anime for
the 21st Century

By David Leong

Masaaki Yuasa’s MINDGAME had its international premiere on Friday, June 24th at the New York Asian Film Festival. KFCC had the pleasure to sit down and speak with MINDGAME producer Eiko Tanaka prior to the screening. Ms. Tanaka worked with Hayao Miyazaki on MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE as a line producer and later co-founded Studio 4°C, for which Ms. Tanaka is President and CEO. The animation house Studio 4°C is renowned for its cutting-edge productions that include NOISEMAN SOUND INSECT, MEMORIES, SPRIGGAN and THE MATRIX animation THE ANIMATRIX, of which five segments were created in-house.

MINDGAME is a work of animation like no other. While titles like AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL are placed on the top of the list of seminal anime movies. MINDGAME may one day displace them all. MINDGAME is a pasticcio of styles; a mélange of motifs that transcend state-of-the art labels. “Instead of telling it serious and straight, I went for a look that was a bit wild and patchy… …I think that Japanese animation fans today don’t necessarily demand something that’s so polished. You can throw different styles at them and they can still usually enjoy it,” said director Masaaki Yuasa (Japan Times).

The visual storytelling in MINDGAME is a fast and loose crosscutting of images and eye-blink editing. MINDGAME uses this technique to its advantage by generating fragmented themes and images that appear irrelevant and inconsequential, but ultimately provide a greater understanding as all the pieces fall into place. Many of the images have their own unique visual texture. MINDGAME reminds us of how we process memories, as jagged little pieces and as pearls. The shapes that memories take provide insight into how we recall them.

The anime combines elements of Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD and the story of “Jonah and the whale,” with a dash of Carlos Castaneda. What does that mean? There are tasty layers that reveal themselves when we least expect to enrich the drama. All told with a good deal of humor and a surreal style that delights.

The anime is based on the manga by Robin Nishi (a compendium of the manga, in Japanese, has recently been released by Studio 4°C). “I was impressed by the manga. It wasn’t very popular, but I liked the main character, Nishi, who takes control of his life,” said Tanaka.

MINDGAME, in a nutshell, is about a loser named Nishi, who lacks the initiative and courage to grab for life or love, is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He gets killed by a yakuza goon, but is given a second chance at life. He returns and goes on a wild adventure with his ex-girlfriend Miyo and her sister. Providing the story is the easy part. Trying to explain how the story unfolds on screen is tough.

“MINDGAME is so different from anything ever done. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a very exciting and complex movie,” said Tanaka. “The message in the film is to discover your path in life and to take it; to go for it.”

Ms. Tanaka said that she was “nervous but happy” as she awaited the international premiere. She was interested to see what type of people wanted to experience MINDGAME. “I definitely want to see the kinds of people that show up, if there are a lot of high-school kids or adults and how they react.

“In order to be successful, the future of Japanese animation needs to expand beyond children and family entertainment. MINDGAME is very adult. It’s fairly mature and contains sex and violence”

First-time director Masaaki Yuasa’s résumé lists SAMURAI CHAMPLOO, CRAYON SHIN-CHAN as examples of his animated work, and as a co-director on NOISEMAN SOUND INSECT. “Masaaki Yuasa has incredible abilities,” said Tanaka. “He understands motion and how real motion works.”

MINDGAME took three years to complete. The movie uses traditional cel animation, CGI and a type of motion capture that included filming live actors and animating the pictures. “A little bit of everything--live action-animation, 3D-modeling, still photography,” said Tanaka. “Of the 300 people who worked on the film, 250 were animators or worked on the film’s animation.” The animation ranges from simple line art to a flowing river of oil paint on canvas to scenes of photo realistic illusion.

The film took some time to be recognized in Japan. “MINDGAME didn’t open well in Japan. It built up and grew over the weeks by word-of-mouth,” said Tanaka. “And maybe it’ll be received here in the same way. I hope the word-of-mouth gets out.”

For further information:

MINDGAME website
Studio 4°C

David Leong

Thanks to’s Nicholas Rucka for translating.


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