Reviewby T Strife, Jun 23rd 2009
Nishi is an aspiring Manga Artist in love with a semi-girlfriend (Myon) who claims to be considering a proposal of marriage from some other guy. Nishi, it seems, is not really focused, outgoing or strong enough, and he displays this aptly when he meets Myon's new lover at a family diner. This new guy appears to be a nice fellow, and in great shape too. Nishi acknowledges this and admits a defeat which that would have been assured if not for a Yakuza intrusion and a chance to develop and prove a new outlook on life.
Mindgame is a terrible title: unimaginative and potentially pretentious, it insinuates promises not only about its own content, but also the content that will surely brew in the viewing subject's peanut of a brain. Or maybe it's just trying to be ironic – a witty satire on the perception of anime frequently being confusing, or even a self-consciously absurd look at the idiosyncratic world of Japanese game shows? Whatever meaning imparts itself upon you, all of the threads still meet at the one pointed knot. T: this it art, damn it!
And, were it not for the revelation, some 100 minutes later, that Mindgame is actually a terrific film hiding behind a terrible name, then it would surely be justifiably dismissed as the worst kind of pretentious pulp. But it's not. This is a film that has a lot to say and does so, says it with keen creative charm, . Mindgameand is always willing to have a sense of fun and adventure in place of inflating the ego of its own importance. There's certainly some food for thought put forward throughout Mindgame, but it never fails to make sure that every passing second of the film remains enjoyable in its uniquely schizophrenic way.
A bronze-toned opening montage flicks by at a steady pace after a short blue-grey story prelude; at once familiar and alienating, the sensation is obviously intentional and is efficiently executed. Thus, by the time that the main title comes up and the tangible narrative gets ready to take over, most viewers should already have been hypnotised into this conflicted, distanced mindset.
It's also made clear that typical anime visual design is not to be expected, not in any of its forms. The characters on screen appear more as lines stretched around and over a basic semblance of the distinguishable human form than they do stylised interpretations of life drawing. A variety of camera perspectives embellish even greater distortions, and the resulting style is at once culturally hip and fantastically expressive. Further experiments in animation styles sometimes fall shy of their ambition, but Mindgame keeps itself mostly in check, , allowing its animators sufficient room to experiment while still leaving enough space for a more conservative viewer to breath.
It is this ability to cater without compromising that makes Mindgame such an engaging piece of work. This constant desire to remain visually dynamic and aesthetically stimulating in spite of a character focus that could just as easily be tackled with Freudian dryness has raised the bar, and forced Studio 4c to work with unwavering creativity in order to leap it.
The story, such as it is, ffocuses on young Nishi and his insecure relationship with Myon, the seemingly G-cupped centre of his affections over the past few years. A series of increasingly implausible events (including Nishi's own short death via a bullet to the anus and his whimsical refusal to run towards the metaphorical light) eventually result in Nishi, his would-be lover and her sister getting swallowed by a giant whale at the end of a madcap car chase.
Wet and confused, they soon meet a charmingly eccentric old codger who has set up home within the sea mammal. A shanty construction of wooden pillars, sea docks and fanciful cubby-houses, his world represents a curiously simplified take on paradise, and it is here where the main meat of the film unfolds. Just as the old man is fascinated with the way in which technology has advanced over the past thirty years, so too are the youths with the old man's lifestyle, home and inoffensively happy and naive personality.
And so follows the predictable path of learning and self re-discovery. This path, well-trodden to the point where the cobblestones have been ground to a paste, is handled with so much energy and such a refreshing willingness to indulge the eccentric side of serious themes that it becomes elevated above the pool of cliché. By forcing the cast to be stranded inside a whale, Mindgame gleefully separates itself from any semblance of literal believability. It's a triumph of expression over sensible storytelling; with such an impossible setting comes the freedom to unleash a relentless burst of visual spectacle, and to explore themes free from the shackles of plausibility.
What does remain believable throughout all of this are the characters. The four central members of the cast each have a role to play and a journey to travel, and their personalities slip and slide empathetically throughout the entire duration. When it comes time for the intimacy of the isolation on Nishi and Myon's feelings to make itself real, it is free to do so in any way it desires, and what follows would have potentially counted as the most visually arresting love-making scene in cinema if not for a reliance upon one overly-familiar piece of imagery. Moments like this reign throughout. That the concluding sequence of the film inverts its own opening would be superfluously clever is not for the strength of these moments that come before, and the earnestness with which they help reach the eventual conclusion.
There's little of negative relevance to write here. Mindgame in itself represents anime feature filmmaking at its finest, although our review copy did lack a dub track entirely. There were no extras, either, but considering that the retail package is a 2-disc set we'll just have to assume in good faith that there's at least once piece of bonus material that's worth your time. But even if there isn't, the main feature is what matters the most, and Mindgame would remain deserving of your attention even as a bare-bones release.
Overall : A
Story : A-
Animation : A
+ Well paced, well animated and visually engaging.
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