Anime: Mind Game

Mind Game (マインド・ゲーム) is a Japanese animated feature film based on the comic by Robin Nishi. It was written and directed by Masaaki Yuasa and animated primarily by Studio 4C.

Nishi is a 20-year-old, self-deprecating loser who dreams of drawing manga for a living. Since the age of nine, he has always been in love with a girl named Miyo - but although she has feelings for him, his shyness and inability to confess his love have led her to think about marrying another man.Shortly after learning of this, Nishi is shot through the butt by an angry Yakuza mobster and dies - and thus begins the story of Mind Game, a movie about second chances and living life with no regrets.

The whole movie is told in several different styles of animation, visual metaphors, intertwining plots and philosophical messages. Since its release, it has become something of a cult classic, being praised by directors from both the West and the East for its storytelling and visual style(s).


This film provides examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: It is being theorized that the bulk of the story takes place inside the senior Yakuza's head while waiting in the car. That explains the Bookends closing scene where he snaps out of his day dream to give the story a different turn.
  • Always Night: Most of the locations are set in a dark environment. The first part plays out at night in typical rainy City Noir style. The second part is set inside a whale with limited artificial lighting.
  • An Aesop: Live life to the fullest.
  • Art Shift: The entire movie switches between three or four different art styles, the main two being a sketchy, surreal style and Rotoscoping.
    • Stylistic Suck: ... which is occasionally interspersed with clean, fancy and sometimes breathtaking animation.
  • Ass Kicks You: Saves Nishi's bacon on the second time around.
  • Blipvert: The intro and final scene show fast-paced flashes of images depicting events going on before and after the timeline of the movie.
  • Bond One-Liner: The senior Yakuza, after shooting Atsu for killing Nishi: "Think about what you did on your way to hell."
  • Bookends: The film starts with Atsu and the senior Yakuza waiting in the car, when they see Myon run by. We return to the same scene at the end of the movie. See All Just a Dream for a possible explanation.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Nishi and Myon.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Half-way through the movie, Nishi has a nightmare in which he is locked away in a cell by God. Cue the Catapult Nightmare.
  • Deranged Animation: The message may be clear, but the presentation leaves one occasionally baffled at just what sort of chemicals would be required to envision what plays out on screen.
  • Dirty Old Man: "Ji-san" (his real name is never revealed and his nickname is an abbreviation of 'Oji-san', Japanese term literally meaning 'old man'), the old man in the whale.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: Many parts of the movie fit the bill.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: Nishi narrowly avoids being erased from existence by God after he dies.
    • Actually, it's rather The Nothing After Death than the Cessation of Existence.
    • The scene where the people trapped inside the claustrophobic darkness of the whale are helplessly listening to the radio... and the weatherman describing the beautiful day, hoping everyone enjoys the warm sunlight and lovely breeze...
  • Flash Forward: The ending basically shows a series of possible future events.
  • Forgiveness Requires Death: Done to Atsu, the junior Yakuza, by "Aniki" (his real name is never revealed and his nickname is a Japanese term of respect literally meaning 'older brother'), the senior Yakuza, after he killed Nishi.
  • Gainax Ending: The climatic Time-Compression Montage does clear up some aspects but it doesn't come together in a coherent way.
  • Green Around the Gills: Nishi's head turns blue after tasting the food prepared by Myon. Apparently, she wasn't such a good cook.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Many believe the old man to be gay and eventually coming to terms with his orientation towards the end of the movie.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Atsu blowing Nishi's brains out (through his ass), which most likely wasn't planned to happen.
  • Imagine Spot: Early on, when Myon tells Nishi she wants to marry someone else, he has a Heroic BSOD and retreats into a short wish dream of Myon falling around his neck, asserting she still loved him.
  • Important Haircut: Yan cuts her hair short, supposedly as a sign of new found self-confidence to live out her masculine side.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Half-jokingly Nishi suggests to Myon to look for a Love Hotel after they met on the subway. Then the scene cuts to a series of misleading close-ups: on a disposed package of what could be condoms, a zipping sound, Nishi telling Myon not to move, Myon's straining face, Nishi's grinning face with grunting sounds. Cut to the Reveal Shot of how he patched up her ankle. What else were you thinking?
  • King of All Cosmos: God, "In all his infinite manifestations".
  • Lemming Cops: A bunch of Lemming Yakuza are crashing their cars while in pursuit of the protagonists. On the upside, no tax money was wasted.
  • Like a Badass out of Hell: Nishi Took a Level in Badass while there, and even pulled a fast one on God... Or did he?
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: It is revealed to the viewer via flashbacks that Ji-san is actually the father of Aniki (the older Yakuza) who went missing when his son was a boy after he got swallowed by the whale. None of any of the characters ever find out about this, at least in the movie.
    • It is also revealed via flashbacks that Aniki is actually the first boyfriend of the girls' mother, before she was seduced away from him by their father. Furthermore, it is shown that the mother is still alive and has apparently gotten back together with her ex-boyfriend after she left her husband, presumably for his philandering with Atsu's girlfriend
  • Male Gaze: Nishi, looking at Myon's boobs after exiting the subway.
  • Mind Screw: And goodly amounts of it. It's named "Mind Game" for a reason.
  • Missed the Bus: Atsu, the young Yakuza, missed the metro in the end when pursuing Myon. This scene plays out differently in the beginning where he actually manages to get onto the same train so that he can follow and find Myon at her sister's place.
  • Montages: Several.
    • Good Times Montage: Extended montage of the four inside the whale, enjoying themselves with good food and water games.
    • Training Montage: Of them doing rowing practice for their big escape.
    • Time-Compression Montage: The movie's last act is a montage of key events in the lives of all characters.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: The senior Yakuza empties his magazine into Atsu, who shot Nishi.
  • No Ending: The movie specifically ends with "This movie has never ended."
  • Non-Human Sidekick: The Plesiosaurus.
  • Pastel-Chalked Freeze Frame: Parodied in Nishi's fantasy sequence in which he's a famous Badass author.
  • Serial Escalation: The entire whale escape sequence. Notably the obstacles that crop up.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Myon and Yan are on opposite ends of the spectrum, both in breast size and general femininity.
  • Slow Motion Fall: Of Myon diving into the subway car.
  • Swallowed Whole: Invokes the trope in classic fashion by using a gigantic whale.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: God.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Nishi, after coming Back from the Dead.
  • Train Escape: In the opening sequence Myon tries to escape Atsu with a courageous jumps into the subway train. However, he manages to enter the next car unknowns to her. This scene plays out differently in the end, where Myon successfully shakes off Atsu.
  • Trash the Set: In a moment of frustration, Nishi trashes the old man's dwelling.
  • X Meets Y: A good description of this film would be a Japanese, art-house "Jonah and the Whale".
  • Yakuza: The movie features two of them, Atsu and his senior partner.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: God.
  • You Wake Up in a Room: Nishi wakes up in a dark room after being killed by the Yakuza. It turns out to be some kind of gateway to the The Nothing After Death.