The films of Sogo Ishii can be quite a handful to track down, but if you are aiming to see the full version of Mirrored Mind [Kyoshin] you better get ready for some serious digging. Then again, once you succeed in tracking it down you're all set to uncover one of Ishii's most impressive and engaging films to date. Mirrored Mind is Sogo Ishii's Vital and then some, so brace yourself for some prime punk-goes-drama action.
I was lucky enough to catch the full version of this film at the now-gone Dejima festival in Amsterdam a couple of years ago. A shorter version of Mirrored Mind appeared on a Korean short collection DVD (Jeonju Digital Project Box) which is almost impossible to find these days, and with 20 minutes cut from the full version not really worth the trouble if you ask me. It's a shame, because Mirrored Mind turned out to be my absolute favorite Sogo Ishii film and one definitely worth owning. It's still available as part of the Sogo Ishii Collection Box (The Psychedelic Years), but no subs included and quite expensive.
With Mirrored Mind Sogo Ishii almost completely abandons his punk roots, leaving behind the world of dark alleys, grating soundtracks and extravagant characters, making a full 180 to end up with a mix of Hiroshi Ishikawa's work and Tsukamoto's Vital. Expect some truly stunning landscape photography coupled with close-to-the-skin introverted drama. It's great to see how these two directors, while still managing to uphold their own unique style, keep dancing around each other professionally. In this particular battle though, Ishii is the clear winner for me.
The story is quite simple and nothing more than a hook for the core issue this film tries to deal with. Mirrored Mind follows a young woman on the brink of a breakdown. Unhappy with her life, she feels alienated by the cold realities of the urban lifestyle trust upon her. When she meets up with another woman they decide to end their lives in search of a better existence, but paradise isn't exactly what she hoped for either.
Ishii is a visual film maker and even though he switched the tone of his new film around completely, his love for on-screen beauty didn't abandon him. Even better, Ishii is at his absolute best here. The most remarkable thing about Mirrored Mind is Ishii's demonstration of perfect framing. Especially the second half of the film is filled with landmark shots, both beautiful and strangely abstract. But then Ishii goes on to show the same scene from a different, wider angle and you notice that the shot was made abstract by the perfect framing, not by the setup itself. Best of all is that this is not just some technical muscle flexing, the effect is actually related to the core themes of the film.
The soundtrack is equally beautiful, though it settles itself more in the background. A beautiful, soothing score that should feel somewhat familiar to fans of the original Ghost In The Shell soundtrack. It's not a rip-off or shameless copy, but the style of music feels strangely familiar. It works wonders for this film though, so you won't hear me complaining.
As for the acting, I can only say that Miwako Ichikawa gives it her all in this film. She makes her character come to life with such natural grace that it's hard to believe she is simply an actress coming to work and doing her job. Mind that this is typical Japanese drama, so don't expect any big emotions or grand sentimental scenes, everything is kept very small and subtle. Absolute perfection that exists on the same level as Ishikawa's films. The secondary cast is small and negligible, the entire film pretty much rests on the shoulders of Miwako.
It's probably no coincidence that Sogo Ishii changed his artist name after this film. With that in mind, it's an educated guess that some of the material here is at least partially autobiographical. The character's struggle and transformation throughout the film, the story of an actress trying to come to terms with her own films ... it's difficult to say without any word from the director himself of course, but this film is without a doubt a new beginning for Sogo Ishii as a director.
Even though this is definitely a film with a message and at least some level of symbolism, the film is still pretty straightforward in its delivery. Mirrored Mind is not an intellectual film, it's an emotional film that sets out to make the audience feel rather than think. The thinking is reserved for after the film, when you're watching Ishii's film there's only room for being swamped by the gracious atmosphere. Ishii's message is honest and down-to-earth, though I assume not quite earth-shattering for most people watching it.
Mirrored Mind is a marvellous film. A perfect score and absolutely stunning visuals transport you to a different world, only to let go of you 60 minutes later, comforted and touched by the film's protagonist's struggle. It's a new step in Ishii's career that will hopefully result in some new work in the near future. Actually finding this gem may be a head scratcher, but it's definitely worth the trouble. I stopped hoping for an English-friendly DVD release but maybe someone will surprise me, please do. Without a doubt one of the best film's I've ever watched.