Please note that there may be minor spoilers for the series in this review.
Re:Mind is a Japanese psychological thriller about a group of eleven high school girls that awake one day to find themselves all sitting around a long dining table with their feet shackled to the floor, uncertain of how they got there or why they were brought there. The drama was produced by TV Tokyo and is available for streaming exclusively on Netflix.
When this sprouted up on my Netflix feed, the trailer had me intrigued. I had initially expected a horror-esque type thriller, and while there isn’t a traditional horror aspect to the series, it still provides plenty of real-life frights and food for thought about the toxicity of female social circles, which apply not only to Japan but also in the West as well, and that is what made Re:Mind so compelling for me.
The first episode begins with the girls waking up and freaking out about their circumstances, and then each segment after that reveals one small piece of the mystery at a time. What I enjoyed about this particular narrative unravelling is that each episode provides a lot of stuff to think about as we go into the next. I like it when a series can do that because it makes me want to keep watching, not only to see how the pieces of the puzzle fall together, but also because it provides me with different perceptions to contemplate, which help me to be more open-minded and thoughtful with life outside of the media I consume.
One of the biggest themes in Re:Mind is the straightforward concept of how each action we take has an inevitable consequence. A perfect example of this is Batman (cliché, I know, but bear with me). He takes the law into his own hands in order to help the law work as efficiently as it can. He’s breaking the rules to uphold the integrity of the same rules that he breaks constantly. Does that make him a vigilante for what’s right or a martyr for the power of personal retribution?
In Re:Mind, there are a couple of characters that feel similarly to Batman, that the justice system isn’t always enough on its own to help fix the “ugliness” of the world. Believing that they have all the tools they need to make a difference, they take up arms, so to speak, and eek out their interpretation of “justice.” But what happens when what is seen on the surface is incomparably removed from actuality? What is the cost of a small misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of a little gesture of kindness as something far more sinister than it truly is? What happens to these individuals that unnecessarily become the victims of vigilante justice? What compensation if given for the misjustice that takes place?
This is one of the elements of the narrative that is dissected in Re:Mind and it’s one of my favourite dynamics to pick apart in mystery and crime narratives (which explains why I love the Batman franchise so much). Additionally, this plays a lot into the other side of being presumptuous: bullying.
I used to be bullied heavily in junior high school. A lot of folx, especially adults, perceive bullying as something that children and teens do because they are immature and irresponsible. The common advice is that “they’ll grow out of it.” Yet, once more, it begs the question of what happens when the impact of actively choosing to inflict psychological or physical harm on another individual delves into a life-altering extreme that can’t be taken back? For me, the intensity and trauma of being bullied in seventh and eighth grades ended up dictating how my high school years would turn out. I became extremely withdrawn and it created a deep sense of agoraphobia within me, so much so that I ended up doing my entire high school via a home-school system. Over the years, the agoraphobia would grow and develop with each new negative life experience to the point where I’d become unable to leave the house for a simple errand of grocery shopping without being accompanied by someone whom I trust.
My trauma was also mostly caused by girls and female identifying people. I’ve been bullied by boys and male-identifying people as well, but it was never as inherently mental and emotional as the nastiness that I was confronted with via my female bullies. Boys and men tended to be physical in their abuse, which wasn’t as profoundly affecting. Because of this, I’ve always had an extremely difficult and challenging time creating and building friendships with girls and women. To say that they terrify me in ways that cut very deeply on a psychological level would be an understatement of sorts.
“Kids being kids” is a sensationalised concept of natural childlike innocence that shouldn’t be applied to behaviours such as bullying. In Re:Mind, the line between naivety from lack of experience or social understanding and active cruelty for the purposes of self-validation, especially where female relationships are concerned, are examined in heavily dark ways. It was because I could relate to the influences of being mistreated by fellow peers and so-called friends that allowed me to become emotionally rivetted by the psychological trauma the girls were being subjected to. On the other side of that, as someone who has been rude to others before just to help substantiate my own sense of worthlessness (in the very distant past, that is), I also felt completely mystified by the shame, guilt, and morbid sense of satisfaction that continues to drive the urge to be cruel.
In addition to exhibiting the fine lines between justice and vindictiveness within female social circles, Re:Mind also utilises the essence of attention to details to give the tale more depth and dimension. I appreciated the little references and other background clues that help pave the path to deciphering what is going on in the grand scheme of things. The benefit of the added focus on details works to help us get into the mind of a young woman. Because women are more intuitive naturally, and because communities of close friendships involve the divulging of vulnerable emotions, thoughts, and experiences, the metaphorical ammunition that is readily available for inflicting a strong psychological blow hurts on a much greater level. The tiny bits of clues help to emphasise the value of certain acts that get discussed and to showcase how different people sentimentalise different things in various ways. For example, one picture could be nothing but a quick capture of a happy moment for one individual, while being incredibly hurtful to another, or even obsessively treasured by a third, or utterly meaningless and stupid by a fourth.
The drawback of having so many details, however, is that it did alternate from being extremely on the nose to being barely significant or relevant at times. This creates somewhat of a disjointed flow, initially, where the story moves hastily with much intrigue and then slows down drastically for seemingly unrelated contextual explanations. By the end, though, it all somehow works together. Even so, if one is watching episode to episode, that fluidity can feel a bit wonky. Plus, the environment and setting is so incredibly rich with items, trinkets, and gadgets surrounding the table, it can be overwhelming to try and get a glimpse of all the hints that are sitting in front of us.
Other titbits that may be a make it or break it gig for some watchers is the acting and the finale. The acting helps to sell much of the shock and fear that surrounds the girls in their unknown situation, but like the flow of progression, it’s not that consistent. Sometimes the girls’ expressions and performances are natural and amazingly believable while at other times it’s quite heavily campy and overplayed. With respect to the finale, I will just be blunt and say it’s extremely ambiguous. Everyone who watches it may ascertain what happens quite differently. This can be maddening and frustrating, yet for a narrative like Re:Mind where so much is based on the What Ifs and the Maybe Sos of a particular event (or accumulation of multiple events) that ambiguity was oddly appropriate. Particularly if we relate it back to the themes of justice and bullying that I mentioned earlier.
Overall, I would RECOMMEND Re:Mind to folx that like psychological thrillers revolving around teens, shows with strong concentration on serious themes, and people that enjoy Japanese dramas. Each segment is about half an hour long and there are thirteen total episodes, so it’s not too big of a time commitment either. Please note that the show does discuss suicide, in the second half, so I would proceed cautiously if that’s a subject you don’t want to engage with.
Native Region: Japan
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Seasons: 1 (13 episodes)
Released: October 2017
Production: TV Tokyo
Available Languages: Japanese, Japanese Audio Description
Available Subtitles: English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese
Content Warnings: Strong language. Strong depiction and discussion of bullying. Discussion of suicide. Brief mention of infidelity, inappropriate relations between teacher and a student, and death of parents. Brief preparation and consumption of food.