Re:Mind Review: Netflix’s Fun New Japanese Mystery Series

Netflix’s Japanese teen horror series Re:Mind is sweet, sweet binge fodder for mystery junkies…

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains mild spoilers

Right up front, I have to warn you: Re:Mind is completely and utterly ludicrous. If you’re all about gritty realism and finely-crafted prestige telly, you might not even be able to struggle through a single episode of Netflix’s new Japanese teen horror series, but for those of you who have guiltlessly enjoyed the elevator pitch-friendly delights of single-room horrors and thrillers like Fermat’s Room, Devil, Buried, Cube, Exam, 1408 – or even vintage classics like Hitchcock’s Rope – over the years, Re-Mind could be a bit of an instant addiction in your gaff.

Rising to the challenge of its stage play constraints, the somewhat proudly silly subtitled limited series – a joint venture between Netflix and TV Tokyo as part of the streaming giant’s increasing live action international import effort – brings together a large gaggle of flawed-but-feisty teen girls (made up entirely of real life Japanese pop idol group Hiragana Keyakizaka46) getting ready to celebrate their high school graduation day. Instead of waking up to the final sputtering of their years of education together, however, the girls wake up gathered around a intricately-set dining table with bags tied over their heads, still in their school uniforms, and with their feet fastened tightly to the floor, padlocked and stuck fast, with no idea how they got there.

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One of their group is missing, it emerges – a disabled classmate by the name of Miho. Their once-most-popular member fell from grace a while back and was relentlessly bullied by the bulk of the girls in the aftermath.

Confused, the group slowly begins to work out that they’re being detained and punished for one or more heinous acts they committed against someone in the past. Someone apparently out for revenge…but who? Is it the aforementioned, tragic Miho? But why? And how? And is there any way for them all to get out of this situation alive?

So far, so Saw, but Re:Mind, much like the twisted individual behind the girls’ imprisonment, never forgets its core captive audience. The gore-free mystery unravels painstakingly over the next 12 25-minute-ish episodes as the girls eek out tiny nuggets of the truth from each other regarding various dodgy incidents from the past, involving all manner of individuals inside (and outside of) their circle, and it’s hard not to become deeply involved in the murky drama. So, even if you usually prefer a little more blood-and-guts up in your single-room horror grill, once Re:Mind has you hooked, the binge is on.

But therein lies the fundamental flaw of the series. A big chunk of mildly interested viewers probably aren’t going to have the patience to sit through so many hours of the niche genre’s limited format, and will ditch the show within a couple of episodes. Single-room mysteries tend to follow a general timeline of quality that rarely stretches beyond 90 minutes – the first two acts, packed with intrigue and sudden shocks, usually give way to an escalating third act equally packed with rather more nonsensical moments as it builds to its climax, losing its grip on the audience as ‘all is revealed’ and, more often than not, an open and frustrating twist is slapped on the end of it all, not only causing plenty of people who were originally gripped by the story to roll their eyes and move on, but actively angering those who stuck with it until the final credits. The longer format of Re: Mind certainly suffers no differently than shorter-but-similar outings, in that respect.

The series also plays primarily to a young teen demographic. As such, there are elements built into it that will irritate the hell out of some of its older viewers. There’s only so much overly-melodramatic screaming and crying the adult mind can take before the urge to check out creeps in.

But its weaknesses marry well with its strengths for the most part. The set, such as it is, is designed well, down to the slightest detail. The rich and sumptuous background is filled with visual eye candy for all your gothic Barbara Cartland-on-opiates needs. Candles flicker, casting ever-darting shadows across this tiny world, and mirroring the fluctuating memories of its unwilling inhabitants. Mounted hunting trophies, old paintings, interminably loud alarm clocks and even the suspiciously full wine glasses dotted around the table hold vital clues to the girls’ predicament – in fact, nearly every item is there for a reason, and it soon becomes super fun to find out what each object’s meaning will turn out to be in our sadistic captor’s warped design.

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In its overall vibe, the series often tries to blend strange shades of Gantz, a Nintendo DS puzzle game and PG torture porn, but those influences very much become part of its charm. Even the score seems in on the fun, repetitively churning out tinkling question marks and laughably emphatic “so it was YOU” crescendos that wouldn’t seem entirely out of place in a Phoenix Wright courtroom battle scene.

Much like many of the single-room stories to have previously graced big screens or small, Re:Mind also uses the occasional flashback or phone-captured video to give the audience a little breathing room away from our main characters, but not much. It’s in these very phone-captured video moments that the series asks you to suspend your disbelief the most – so the girls have no phone signal to call for help, but they can quite easily browse their group Twitter feed with no problem whatsoever? Ah, away wit yer!

The series dwells on well-worn and mostly universal themes that young people absolutely adore, of course, like crime, punishment, justice, forgiveness, penitence and consequences (they do love that stuff, right? I’m not out of touch? No… it’s the children who are wrong) and ultimately falls victim to many of the storytelling format’s usual issues, but for those viewers who stick with it, the reward is not in the show’s overall satisfaction factor, but in the journey, mystery and excitement it dishes out piecemeal.

Re:Mind isn’t for everyone, but like the each of the girls’ silly and selfish mistakes, it will become very memorable for viewers who take the time to become unwitting accomplices. At one point during the series, one of the girls wonders why – should their captor indeed turn out to be their very much ex-BFF Miho – she would take the time and trouble to create a final judgement day for them that is “so annoyingly complex”?

It’s a question that’ll haunt ya.