Masaaki Yuasa
Photo: Emru Townsend
Emru Townsend · July 18, 2005 | Every so often a film comes along that defies explanation and expectation. Mind Game, the directorial debut of animator Masaaki Yuasa, is one such film. It's hard to explain because of its oddball storyline and pacing and constant shifting between different styles; it surprises because it manages to maintain its goofiness while delivering a simple but thoughtful message.

After Mind Game's Canadian premiere at the Fantasia film festival, I sat down with Yuasa and his translator, Ryoko Wada for a few minutes to ask about his career and the genesis of this strange and compelling movie.

Thanks also to Fantasia's Michiko Higuchi for her help.

Emru Townsend: Before we talk about Mind Game, I'd like to talk about you. How did you get your start in the animation industry?

Masaaki Yuasa: Since I was a child, I was always fascinated by animation, but at the time I didn't know the exact difference between comics and TV animation. When I was in junior high school, I watched the animation of Hayao Miyazaki, Castle of Cagliostro. When I watched it, I was so fascinated by this animation film. So that was a turning point for me. And then after I graduated junior high school I decided I wanted to be an animator. Because at the time I wasn't clear that you can make a living as an animator.

I never would have thought Miyazaki [was an inspiration], because the style is so different. So when did you start working in the industry?

After graduating university, I started working at an animation production company, Asiado.

In what year?

In 1987.

How long have you been at Studio 4°C?

I'm a freelance animator, so I switch production companies depending on the project. So a few years ago I was worked on [Koji Morimoto's] Noiseman for about four months, and then I switched to Studio 4°C. I worked on Mind Game for two years and nine months. After we finished Mind Game, I was at another production company for about half a year, and now I'm at 4°C again, for seven months now.

Mind Game
Studio 4°C/Madhouse Studios, 2005
Originally released in 2004
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
104 minutes

Shop for Mind Game DVDs and more:

The essential Masaaki Yuasa: a selected filmography
Crayon Shin-chan (1992; animation director)
Noiseman Sound Insect (1997; animation designer, character designer, supervising animator)
My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999; key animator)
Samurai Champloo (2004; key animator)
Mind Game was originally a manga by Robin Nishi. Who decided to animate it? Did Robin Nishi bring it to the studio, to you personally, were you interested in it... How did the project start?

The idea came from the producers of 4°C. Their names are Eiko Tanaka and Koji Morimoto. Koji Morimoto was the producer of Noiseman. So I was introduced to Mind Game through Koji Morimoto when I was working with him on Noiseman. When I was making Cat Soup, I heard about the idea to make it into animation.

Is the movie based on the entire comic, or just part of the comic?

In general, it's based on Robin Nishi's comic. Half of this movie is almost the same as the original story, and the structure is the same. I just changed a little bit of the editing. So consider it as just animated from the comic.

How similar is the look to the manga? Is the art style the same?

The style of the direction is about the same, because the original comic is done sort of without thinking—spontaneously. That's the important part. And also the style looks a little bit rough, but that's the [way it looks] in the original. So I tried to keep this direction in my animation.
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