Film Review: Chang Yung-chang’s “Mida”

In this age of CG and digital filmmaking, it’s rare to find a film that isn’t weighed down by sheer spectacle. Filmmakers constantly battle with moneymen and their own purported audience as to whether they should indulge their own creative whims or base economic consideration. Although animators have been able to blend art and commerce more successfully than their live-action counterparts, sadly animated films still do not get the respect that they deserve. Animation is considered primarily for children, and even in places like Japan where the genre and comics have a long history of popularity with audiences, often the product is geared to a specific male adolescent demographic.

Japan’s neighbors are churning out animated features, but have not yet made anything that has captured international audiences as Studio Ghibli has done. This is partly due to the looming shadow of Japanimation, which makes animated works from other Asian countries seem quite amateurish or derivative. In recent years as Japan’s foothold on animation slips, it seems that every new non-Japanese film that pops into the culture sphere is automatically heaped tons of praise even before the public gets a chance to view it.

Case in point: Chang Yung-chang’s 2013 picture “Mida.” The film premiered at the Taipei Film Festival and made the rounds at the 18th Puchon International Film Festival. Billed as a 100 percent “Made in Taiwan” film, “Mida” combines 2D and 3D animation styles to tell a clunky sci-fi story. Re-appropriating the late great Japanese auteur Satoshi Kon’s shtick – specifically borrowing wholesale from the director’s last completed film Paprika (2006) which itself was adapted from the work of Japanese surrealist writer Yasutaka Tsutsui – “Mida” is about a dream therapist, the eponymously named Mida, who cures people of their neuroses by entering her patient’s dreams and talking to them.

Making the picture even more mind-numbingly boring are the unimaginative dream sequences, which are presented in a style of digital animation that harkens back to the mid-‘90s when animated shows like Transformers spin-off Beast Wars and ReBoot were popular. The dream world as presented by Kon or even Christopher Nolan was a malleable realm that could be manipulated, but Chang does nothing inventive in these sequences.

Filling up the rest of the 89-minute runtime are several subplots about a girl who can predict the future through her dreams, an A.I. that falls in love with “Mida,” and a secret organization hell-bent on using the dream sphere to control people. All these plotlines would have made interesting films on their own, but Chang wastes each of these narrative threads. As a result, the film languishes in over-extended sequences where “Mida” travels the dream sphere and, no joke, sings and dances for her dream fans.

Though “Mida” might have been a labor of love for its director, its unfocused narrative and clunky visual style makes viewing the picture a grueling task. Hopefully Chang and the Taiwanese animation industry will learn from the mistakes of this film, bounce back, and put out a movie that can proudly wear the title of “Made in Taiwan,” sooner rather than later.