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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Friday, July 16, 2004

06:01:48 pm , 1242 words, 2066 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

All About Mind Game

Mind Game Official SiteToday I thought I'd throw together a little Mind Game primer for those of you who might have read past entries of this journal wondering what the heck this Mind Game thing is that I'm always going on about.

Simply put,

Mind Game is the first great anime film of the 21st century.

Mind Game explodes the boundaries of "Japanimation".

Mind Game is a revolution unto itself.

More concretely,

Mind Game is the latest full-length feature film from independent Japanese animation studio Studio 4°C (official home page), a studio founded in 1986 by Eiko Tanaka, Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato that has gone on to produce several of the most significant anime films of the last decade, including Memories (1995) and Animatrix (2003).

Studio 4°C has distinguished itself among its peers for its willingness to push the boundaries of anime in new, unforseen directions, without being constrained by passing fads or profit margins. Their creations are consistently on the cutting edge of Japanese commercial animation, stylistically as well as technically; they were among the first studios in Japan to create films successfully integrating 3DCG with conventional animation. They are the dogged independent of the anime industry.

A large proportion of their output has been dedicated to quasi-experimental short films, the preferred medium of the studio's star director, Koji Morimoto, who has been responsible for most of these wonderfully esoteric, extremely refreshing, beguilingly odd gems, many of them music videos, like Ken Ishii's Extra (1995) and the Bluetones' Four Day Weekend (1998).

One of the exceptions was Morimoto's 1997 15-minute featurette Sound Insect Noiseman. Building on a history of fruitful collaboration, Morimoto made the bold decision of inviting rising star Masaaki Yuasa to design and animate a large portion of the film. The collaboration was extremely successful, and the film remains one of Studio 4°C's strongest.

The choice was not without reason. Yuasa had proven himself to be a creator to watch right from the beginning of his career as a key animator in the 1992 film Chibi Maruko-chan: My Favorite Song, for which he provided two remarkable short musical pieces that are still every bit as thrilling and exceptional as when they were first created. For the next ten years his energies were primarily expended on the popular and prolific Crayon Shin-chan series, which unfortunately had the adverse effect of hiding his talent from the view of many, particularly in the west, to whom these films and TV episodes were (and remain) unavailable or simply of no interest.

This is unfortunate because his work on this series is one of the great individual achievements of the 1990s in anime, and deserves greater recognition. The films are probably the high point of traditional, family-oriented anime filmmaking of that decade, and Yuasa played a major role in making them the instant classics they are. In a role analagous to that played by Hayao Miyazaki in Toei's 1971 film Animal Treasure Island (where Miyazaki was credited as "Idea Man"), as the "Set Designer" Yuasa furnished each film with a vast array of crazy designs and freespirited ideas that contributed tremendously to their unique and compelling atmosphere. As well, he provided an animated sequence in almost every film. Entirely on their own merits, these brilliantly animated sequences are required viewing for anyone who considers him or herself a fan of just-plain-great animation.

When in 2001 Studio 4°C producer Eiko Tanaka was tossing around the idea of turning Robin Nishi's 3-volume comic Mind Game into a film, it was this record, combined with the success of their previous collaboration and Yuasa's unprecedentedly rough and free approach to animation, that brought Yuasa to mind as the only person in the world who could possibly find a way of translating the mad imagery and story of this cult comic into equally mad and compelling animation.

Yuasa himself had already read the comic at the urging of Koji Morimoto during the production of Noiseman, and he gladly accepted the offer. In the intervening years Yuasa had begun to test his wings as a director, having just finished his artistic 'coming-out' statement Cat Soup, and, encouraged by the enthusiastic reception his work had received from colleagues and audiences alike into thinking he wasn't entirely worthless, he leaped at the offer as an opportunity to put into concrete form many of the deep-down urges that had been begging for release all these years.

Tanaka originally wanted to create a live-action film from the comic, but later decided to do it half-animation/half-live action, with Yuasa directing the animation parts. After starting on the project, Yuasa thankfully managed to convince Tanaka to let him exercise complete control over the project and decide how to integrate the live action bits, relegating the latter to a smaller role, kind of the reverse of music videos where you have live-action interspersed with short bits where the actors turn into animated characters.

Bringing into the fray as his animation director the immensely talented Yuichiro Sueyoshi, after two years of animation production Yuasa has produced nothing short of a miracle: an unprecedentedly powerful and revolutionary film fashioned from an explosive mixture of live-action, 3DCG and traditional animation that I guarantee is unlike anything anyone has seen before in any film -- live-action or animated.

The film is literally a revolution for anime: It breaks down previous technical boundaries, artistic boundaries and entertainment boundaries, telling an extraordinary story by means of visuals of unthinkably raw power.

And to all of you worried that there's no possible way anyone could sit through a whole film as crazy as the trailer, or conversely, worried that you've seen all the good bits in the trailer, rest assured: Yuasa has reportedly done the impossible, creating a breathless, hyperkinetic film in which not only is every moment just as eye-popping and heart-thumping as the trailer (it's not a "hypertension" movie for nothing!), but the film also stands soundly on its own two feet as a profoundly stirring drama with a message of universal appeal, boasting a story that is the essence of simplicity and clarity and a host of interesting and well-fleshed-out characters.

Not only this, but Yuasa proved decisively that he has the instincts of a director by making the unusual decision to cast comedian Koji Imada and other young non-voice-actor tarento from the Osaka-based Yoshimoto Kogyo, the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the Kansai region, sensing that the very particular brand of humor native to this region was just what was needed for the characters in the film.

And the simple fact that Seiichi Yamamoto, an ex-member of the Boredoms, provides the film's score speaks volumes in and of itself about the nature of the film. I think I've been waiting all my life for a film that would by its very nature require music from an ex-member of the Boredoms!

Yes, folks. Look forward to it. No matter how high your expectations, I can guarantee that they will be left coughing and hacking in the dust as this film soars into the history books.

MIND GAME

Written and directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Based on the manga by Robin Nishi
Animation Director Yuichiro Sueyoshi
Original Score by Seiichi Yamamoto
Voice acting by Koji Imada, Takashi Fujii, Yamaguchi Tomomitsu

Total Runtime: 104 minutes

Opens in Japan on August 7, 2004

- Official Site: www.mindgame.jp

- Trailer

- Robin Nishi's Mind Game Comic (reissued June 23)

- Mind Game Original Soundtrack CD (TB released July 16)

- Mind Game Remix DVD (released June 25)

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