Mind Game (film)

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Mind Game
Japanese マインド・ゲーム
Hepburn Maindo Gēmu
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Produced by Eiko Tanaka
Written by Masaaki Yuasa
Based on Mind Game 
by Robin Nishi
Starring Kōji Imada
Sayaka Maeda
Takashi Fujii
Music by Seiichi Yamamoto
Editing by Kyōko Mizuta[1]
Studio Studio 4°C
Distributed by Asmik Ace Entertainment
Release dates
  • August 7, 2004 (2004-08-07)
Running time 103 minutes[2]
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Mind Game (マインド・ゲーム?) is a 2004 Japanese animated feature film based on Robin Nishi's Japanese comic of the same name. It was planned, produced and primarily animated by Studio 4°C and adapted and directed by Masaaki Yuasa, with chief animation direction and model sheets by Yūichirō Sueyoshi, art direction by Tōru Hishiyama and groundwork and further animation direction by Masahiko Kubo.

It is unusual among features other than anthology films in using a series of disparate visual styles to tell one continuous story. As the director commented in a Japan Times interview, "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."[3]

The film received a cult audience and was well received, winning multiple awards worldwide, and has been praised by directors Satoshi Kon[4] and Bill Plympton.[5] Allegedly, according to Michael Arias, there was consideration for a release of the film on R1 DVD but it fell through [6]


The first scenes introduce the protagonist, Nishi, who is a 20-year-old loser dreaming of becoming a comic book artist. One late evening he runs into a girl Myon on the subway. He has had a crush on her since childhood, but his lack of self-confidence and his insecurities had stopped him from seriously pursuing her, and they had drifted apart for years. It transpires that Myon too has not achieved her aspirations, as she was a swimming champion during high school, but gave up when her breasts became too big. Nishi now finally declares he has always loved her, but she tells him she is due to marry someone else. They then go to her parents' yakitori restaurant, to see Myon's father and her strikingly different older sister Yan (who runs the restaurant) and to talk about old times. There Nishi also meets Myon's handsomely brawny fiancee, Ryo, who makes a living as a trucker. Observing their interactions while dining, Nishi is forced to admit that Ryo may very well be both a much better man and a much better match for Myon than himself. Two yakuza gangsters then enter the restaurant to collect money that Myon's father owes them. He has had debts with the yakuza and left his family dealing with the problems he created, spending his time away from home, having fun with young women and gambling. It is because of his reckless and selfish behavior that his entire family is now placed in danger. Regardless of all that, he does not dare to reveal himself when the gangsters arrive or when the situation worsens. The first yakuza, called Atsu, is an arrogant soccer player, who wears the number 10 soccer shirt and has even played for the Japanese national soccer team, who has an anger management problem. The second, senior, yakuza's name is never revealed (Atsu only refers to him as aniki - lit. "brother", in Japanese. This is a term used by Yakuza to refer to each other).

It is later revealed through flashbacks much later in the movie that the senior yakuza is actually both the first boyfriend - and current lover - of the girls' estranged mother, from whom she was seduced by her husband at a disco during their youth in the 1970s, and with whom she later had an extramarital affair (in retaliation for her husband's own rampant philandering) when they met again when he first came to collect her husband's debts, before ultimately abandoning her family. Neither of the girls nor their father is aware of this, however, and it is never mentioned either by the senior yakuza. It is later shown that his lover, the girls' mother, is waiting at a train station, implying that she plans to go far away somewhere and start a new life for herself. In the first timeline of the movie, he decides not to join her, but in the second timeline created by a change of events at the end of the movie, it is shown that he decides to go be with her after all.

Atsu soon recognizes the father, cowering in the corner, as the man who seduced and stole his girlfriend from him. He becomes enraged and goes berzerk. While the father cowers around the corner, Ryo steps in and tries to punch Atsu, but his attack is easily avoided and instead he gets knocked out by Atsu. When Ryo falls, it is revealed that he wears a toupee. Atsu then lecherously eyes Myon, and proceeds to begin to rape her. Nishi meanwhile is rolled in a ball, terrified. Myon calls his name, but then Atsu turns on him and places his pistol against Nishi's anus. the gun goes off when Nishi suddenly moves, thus killing him instantly.

The senior Yakuza, offended by Atsu's lack of control, shoots him dead, and then nonchalantly orders dinner. Meanwhile, Nishi has gone to heaven. There he encounters a being watching television but whose physical character changes every fraction of a second - God. God reveals to Nishi that there is really no paradise in the afterlife and that because he is now dead, his soul is now destined to spend the rest of eternity in the void of oblivion. Nishi has a nervous breakdown and laments his existence to God, blaming him for giving him a loser's life. Telling Nishi to just resign himself to his inevitable fate, God then turns his back on him and begins grooming himself, as he is scheduled to go on a date for which he is already running late. Nishi refuses to accept that his time is now up forever and tries to flee by running back to Earth while God's back is turned. God chases him in the form of a huge leopard, but becomes impressed by Nishi's sheer will to live, and so lets him escape with a warning that this is his one and only second chance. This exit sends Nishi and his body back in time to just before the moment when Atsu pulled the trigger. This time around, Nishi resolves to live life more fully. He clenches his buttocks, seizes Atsu's gun, and turns the tables by reflexively shooting him instead. He, Yan and Myon all pile into the yakuza's car, leaving the father of Myon and Yan to deal with his debts to the yakuza himself. Myon thinks they should go to the police, but Nishi declines, preferring to be on the run. There then begins a high speed chase, followed by the massed yakuzas, who are controlled by the stereotypical Japanese Yakuza boss, a large man wearing several rings and gold necklaces, stroking a little pet in a huge business office. He has his men cut the trio off and force them on to a bridge. Nishi refuses to be taken alive. He steers the car in a death plunge off the bridge - but they are then swallowed up by an enormous whale.

Inside the whale, they meet a strange old man who has been trapped in the whale for decades. He takes them into the elaborate suspended house he has constructed over the 'sea' inside the whale's belly, and teaches them about how to live inside the wall, what recreations are possible, introduces them to his Plesiosaurs sea friends, etc. He also recounts his history as a drug courier; while still a young yakuza, he hid a package of drugs in a child's toy and stored it with his son's toys, but when he retrieved it for the sale, he grabbed the wrong container, which eventually led to him fleeing with a ship and getting captured by the whale.

It is later revealed through flashbacks much later in the movie that the old man is actually the long-lost father of the senior Yakuza shown earlier, as shown by the identical flashbacks the two have of their tragic past. None of the characters have any awareness of this fact nor learn about it through the course of the movie, and it is not shown in any of the possible futures toward the end of the movie if the old man ever reunited with his son, even after getting out of the whale.

During the symbolic and metaphorical time inside the cetacean (there is a reference to Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio), they experience personal development and growth and have to face their problems and insecurities. Nishi learns the craft of writing and drawing humorous manga, he and Myon finally become sexually intimate, and the whole group experiment in art, particularly dance and painting, by doing performance, etc. In the whale, Yan for example, learns that being the older sister, she had always felt compelled to be the one to take responsibility in the family and to look after Myon, but really she was the one who wanted to be helped in the first place.

The four castaways are eventually forced to escape from the whale, who is slowly dying after being fatally wounded by whalers. Their flight is followed by a lengthy montage, similar to that of the opening credits, showing some of the many possible futures for each of the four characters. The film returns to its very first scene, with Myon running from the Yakuza, only this time she does not get her leg caught in the door of the train, suggesting yet another possible series of events through the creation of a second timeline with a new future for all the characters. The movie ends ambiguously, with the phrase "This Story Has Never Ended" appearing before the credits roll.


Voice cast

  • Nishi Voiced by: Kōji Imada
  • Myon Voiced by: Sayaka Maeda
  • Old man (jiisan) Voiced by: Takashi Fujii
  • Yan Voiced by: Seiko Takuma
  • Ryō Voiced by: Tomomitsu Yamaguchi
  • Father of Myon and Yan (Myon to Yan no chichi) Voiced by: Toshio Sakata
  • Yakuza boss (yakuza no bosu) Voiced by: Jōji Shimaki
  • Atsu Voiced by: Ken'ichi Chūjō
  • Yakuza Voiced by: Rintarō Nishi

Other crew

Production companies

Other companies


The film's music, produced by Shinichiro Watanabe, as well as the score by Seiichi Yamamoto includes an image song by Fayray[2] and piano performed by Yōko Kanno.[1]


The film's accolades include the Ōfuji Noburō Award at the 2005 Mainichi Film Awards and the Animation Division Grand Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival in 2004, outranking nominee Howl's Moving Castle.[7] Outside of Japan, the film had its international premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival in June 2005.[8] It had possibly its biggest success at the Fantasia Festival in Canada in July 2005, wherein it beat many live-action films to win all three of the festival's own jury awards it qualified for: Best Film, Best Director (tying with Gen Sekiguchi for Survive Style 5+) and Best Script. It also received an additional Special Award for "Visual Accomplishment", as well as placing first in the audience award for best Best Animation Film and second, behind Survive Style 5+, for Most Groundbreaking Film.[9] Despite these accolades, as of July 2011 the film's only home video release in a primarily English-speaking country is a region 4-locked, "PAL" DVD-Video released in Australia by Madman Entertainment in 2008 (catalogue MMA3985),[10] though the Japanese (region 2, "NTSC") DVDs have English subtitles for the feature itself.


  1. ^ a b "Mind Game" (in Japanese). Sakuga@wiki. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Mind Game" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  3. ^ "Mind Game: Anime for the 21st century". KFCC. 
  4. ^ "Interview with Satoshi Kon". Gamestar. "GS: Have you seen any films lately that you found great? Any you're looking forward to? SK: I've not seen many movies lately but Masaaki Yuasa's theatrical animation, Mind Game, was outstanding. The images were full of pictorial allure. I'm looking forward to its overseas release." 
  5. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes: Five Favourite Films with Bill Plympton". RT. 
  6. ^ "The deal in question was never closed - Youtube and the English subtitles certainly didn't help - and I've no idea what the current status is.Too bad though - MG is a wonderful and unique movie. All of us who worked on it were very proud of MG." http://www.pelleas.net/aniTOP/index.php/title_44
  7. ^ "Award-winning works in 2004 (8th) Japan Media Arts Festival". Japan Media Arts Plaza. 2004. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  8. ^ "Mind Game". New York Asian Film Festival 2005. Subway Cinema. 2005. 
  9. ^ Brown, Todd (26 July 2005). "Fantasia wraps up and Mind Game cleans up". Twitch Film. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  10. ^ "Mind Game (2 disc set)". Madman Entertainment. 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 

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