Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: September 2004, 18

Saturday, September 18, 2004

06:20:24 pm , 1015 words, 1453 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game news

It's gray and rainy so I spent the day listening to Bach organ music.

Watching those 1969 Moomin eps I realized I was right about The Golden Bird - the problem is the screenwriter. From the first time I saw Junji Tashiro's episode of Moomin, #5, it rubbed me the wrong way, and The Golden Bird rubbed me the same way. The drama is sloppy and the characterisation mean-spirited and unbelievable. I can see perfectly why Yoshiaki Yoshida, on the other hand, went on to become one of the three writers of Heidi. His episodes are dramatically balanced, believable and engaging.

Mind Game Official SiteIt's fun to read the reviews of Mind Game. The enthusiasm is infectious. Predictably, there's the odd scrooge who refuses to get it, but the majority bow down before its majesty, from the guy who saw it for the sixth time and wants to see it two more times, to the one who attained satori after seeing it, to a guy called Toshiyuki Inoue who says he hasn't laughed so much in years and wishes he could draw like that, and one Hiroyuki Imaishi, who says he almost broke out in tears within the first five minutes. Most telling was the fact that Imaishi, a hard-core anime otaku accustomed to hunting and pecking for good animated bits, confesses that he was so engrossed by the film from start to finish that "who did what" became irrelevant. A good analogy is with Miyazaki's films, in which Miyazaki's deft manipulation of exactly the right details in every aspect of the production succeeds in imparting the illusion that the whole film was drawn by Miyazaki. That's the mystery about the film: it's unclassifiable as either "popular"-style TV anime or "big-time" movie anime, with its implausible structure and artistic bent, yet Yuasa's careful adaptation of the original story and meticulous editing and layout succeed in not only making the whole thing work as a film, but also in infusing the film with his own personal taste and positive spirit and making what could easily have devolved into an self-indulgent art-house bore accessible to audiences of all stripes, which really is an achievement.

Although Mind Game has finished its run in most of the big metropolitan centers like Tokyo and Osaka, it's still showing in a few spots like Yamanashi and Niigata. And in addition to the Baus Theater, which will be holding late-night screenings as an adjunct to the "Anime Wonderland 2004" festival, yet another art-house theater has announced plans to program Mind Game in the near future: Shimotakaido Cinema in Setagaya, Tokyo. A month in the theaters is really not a long time for a première, so this sort of thing is great news for the many people over there who got wind of the movie too late to see it on the big screen, which is where it should be seen. Some even say it deserves to be shown on an Imax screen.

On the dub front, rumors of the involvement of several famous Hollywood actors seems to suggest that the producers of the dub have got big ambitions for the US distribution of the film.

The latest installation of the Madhouse Institute for Mind Game Studies features a cartoon by Hiroaki Sakurai, the popular director of spoof shows like Excel Saga and Di Gi Charat. I wasn't a fan before, but I kind of like him now.

As mentioned, the final screening of Mind Game at Shibuya's small Cine Quinto was one week ago, and it featured a surprise guest, Gisaburo Sugii. If there's any single film in the entire world that can hold a candle to the revolutionary spirit of Mind Game, it's Sugii's 1973 film Belladonna, which in its day also shook up the idea of what an animated film could be. Due to the hitherto poor turnout and the rainy weather on the final day, Gisaburo fully expected to be talking to a half-empty theater, but was surprised and deeply moved to be greeted by a standing-room-only turnout.

It has long been a mystery to fans of Gisaburo's early work what happened over the last thirty years to have caused him to drift so far from his roots. Although he has been prolific since then, he never again produced similarly challenging fare. Was it because it no longer interested him? Or because nobody would give him the chance? I long suspected the latter, and Gisaburo's appearance here would certainly have been enough to suggest the truth of that interpretation, had his words left no doubt at all. To paraphrase his words, the answer is: yes. This is the kind of film he'd like to be making. But the problem is, after years in the business, the business end tends to take over, and it gets harder and harder to find a producer willing to support this sort of project. That's why you wind up getting the sort of film we see a lot of today: very carefully made films that are at least guaranteed to return your investment. While they certainly have their appeal, Gisaburo himself was starting to get tired of the routine. And that's when he encountered Mind Game. It was a shock. It's easy to see why. He must have been reminded what he should have been doing all these years; long after he'd lost hope that it was possible to do it anymore.

Suffice it to say, Gisaburo couldn't restrain the words of praise throughout the talk, and he finally had to be forcibly removed from the stage so that the film could start. What will happen after the film? It'll be interesting to see. Will Gisaburo make a comeback? While I'm fantasizing, why doesn't Studio 4°C let him make a film? The Japanese première was not exactly a bang-up success at the box office, and without that success to back it up, will Yuasa be given another chance to make a film? That's the most important issue at stake. The expectation now is that the international première will play some part in determining if that will happen.