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: December 2004, 23

Thursday, December 23, 2004

09:08:33 pm , 534 words, 1018 views     Categories: Mind Game

Mind Game: First impressions

I've watched Mind Game once, and there are several things I can say for sure. I don't think I've ever had such a dizzying experience watching a full-length animated film. I don't know how to describe it; there's like a motor in my brain somewhere that's been overheated and that doesn't want to stop - it's still revving away, driven mad, out of control, pondering this and that, imparting a pleasant warming sensation. Concretely, the volume of information in the film is so vast that it begs repeated viewings. I've never seen another film like this that managed to create such a vast and convincing panorama of the entire range of human experience within such an abbreviated span of time - and do it in a way that comes across as entirely unforced and beleivable. One knows it makes sense, even if, when watching, one doesn't quite grasp what that sense is. It's as simple as a leaf, and as complex. Most importantly, I've never seen a full-length animated film that spoke to me, personally, more eloquently and powerfully purely by means of visuals than this one did. The film is, first and foremost, animated. It's an animated Ode to Joy, whose every explosively unbridled mo(ve)ment mirrors the theme of unlimited human potential. In addition, it's a great film that holds you riveted for every minute without relying on rails laid by predecessors - indeed, it shatters any notion of conventional structure. It doesn't make it easy, but it asks you to participate in the experience, and it's that much more rewarding. It's literally a storm of images, but at the same time, at the core it feels calm.

The biggest surprise for me was perhaps the gut-wrenching power of the way the human stories in the film are conveyed by the directing. There's a feeling of depth there, of personal reality, that has to be experienced to be understood. It's literally an eye-opening film. I think back on it and my eyes open wide. I try to grab a handhold and my breath catches, I don't know where to begin. It's certainly paced and structured like no other film I've seen, animated or otherwise. I can honestly say that the scene animated by Nobutake Ito is one of the most powerful animated sequences I've ever seen. Visual adrenaline. An expression of the atomic power that lurks in the human mind, the height of animated expressive potential. I came in with quite a baggage of expectations, so naturally I found much that was different from what I'd imagined. It was not the emotionally overwhelming experience that Night on the Galactic Railroad was to me personally, but this is no doubt partly because I came to the latter with no knowledge and to this one with too much. It was overwhelming in a different way, in a way that combines the emotional resonance of said film with the visual destructive power of Belladonna. I can't speak for anyone else, because this is most certainly a film that will not leave people opinionless; I can only say that to me personally it's the sort of evolutionary step I've been waiting for in animated filmmaking.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

02:00:37 pm , 885 words, 1268 views     Categories: Mind Game

The Mind Game DVD has English subs

Mind Game Official SiteI just received the Special Box, and as it turns out, the film does have English subtitles, despite all the fretting about the word "planned". So anyone who wants to see Mind Game right away, before the remake, should jump to it and get the DVD to support this kind of animation, if you want to see more like it in the future.

To anyone who still does not know what Mind Game is, here are a few links that might help to give you some idea. You can browse through all my Mind Game-related posts here.

=> Mind Game trailer

=> All about Mind Game - a primer

=> Masaaki Yuasa interview - translated from the official site

=> Movie review by Mark Schilling - spoiler alert

=> Mind Game DVD - detailed info about the three sets (photos)

=> Mind Game Bibliography - which I've been neglecting

The packaging of the box is just lovely, all drawn by Masaaki Yuasa. He reportedly drew more than 240 individual characters for the even more beautiful looking Perfect Box. The 500-page storyboard book is truly a sight to behold. I like Yuasa's stand on the book - he lays it all bare, warts and all, without correcting anything, so we really have an accurate blueprint of the film here, and not a prettified one, which I've heard happens sometimes these days when directors know their storyboard is going to be made public.

Studio 4°C and Yahoo! Japan recently linked up to present the first ten episodes of Kimagure Robot to the public, and yesterday, to commemorate the release of the DVD, they started a series of what will eventually be four charity auctions, where they'll be auctioning off various items drawn upon by Yuasa. At the same time they put up a new interview with Yuasa, which touches on aspects of his experience on the film that are familiar from other interviews, such as the rapidity with which the Yoshimoto Kogyo voice actors breezed through their task, but also a few other less familiar anecdotes, such as the one about his experience creating a musical scene for "a certain show" many years ago (the 1992 Chibi Maruko-chan: My Favorite Song movie), when he created an incredibly imaginative 3 minutes of animation that was arduously matched to a song, only to nearly die of mortification to find that the song had been changed at the last minute, and the animation no longer matched. He relates that this led to his determination to be pliant as a reed in his work as the director of Mind Game, and not get hung up on details, which accounts for the unique way he approached the job - not as an auteur handing out commandments to subordinates, but as an organizer trying to figure out how best to accomodate the various ideas offered by his talented staff, from whom many of the most memorable ideas in the film reportedly originated. This has obvious similarities with the production style of the Crayon Shin-chan films, in which he was involved as designer, animator and storyboarder for almost a decade, providing many of the most interesting ideas in the films.

In addition to this interview, a special feature on Yuasa was added to the Animeister section of the Japan Media Arts Festival site after Mind Game won the grand prize. It also includes an informative interview, which I'll soon be translating. Not long ago I talked about how a feature in said section had been devoted Keiichi Hara, director of several recent Crayon Shin-chan films. In retrospect that could well have been taken as a hint of what was to come. In each feature there is a "keyword" and "key figure" section where the person in question provides six words and individuals that can be cited as keys to their oeuvre. Masaaki Yuasa is one of Keiichi Hara's key persons, and vice-versa, which makes the similarity in the directing style of Mind Game and the Shin-chan films that much clearer. Yuasa's list is quite gratifying personally. Topping the list is Takashi Nakamura, whose legendary animation in mid-80s anime TV series like Gold Lightan and Urashiman Yuasa cites as his door to sakuga anime otakudom, definable as the state of watching anime largely for the thrill of being able to see work by individualistic "karisuma" animators like Nakamura. Second only to Nakamura in Yuasa's sise is Shinya Ohira, who since Nakamura's heyday has been one of the most uncompromisingly individual artists working in Japanese commercial animation, and whose influence on Yuasa both spiritual and stylistic is even more palpable. The other figures are Mitsuru Hongo and Keiichi Hara, directors of the Shin-chan films; Sueyoshi Yuichiro, the brilliant animator and animation director of Mind Game who is widely considered to be Yuasa's direct stylistic successor; and Tsutomu Shibayama, the great animator at the root of all the classic A Pro anime that captured Yuasa's imagination as a child, eventually leading him to become an animator at Shibayama's studio, Asia-Do. A feature on Yoshiyuki Tomino was added immediately prior to the Yuasa feature, presumably because Tomino heads the judging committee this year.

Adding to this the three hours of bonus material on the DVDs, I think it's fair to say that we've got a good beginning in terms of expository information on Mind Game.