Mind Game is a psychedelic trip that will, you guessed it, blow your mind
It feels like an experiment in free association, watching all these images, so many of them brilliantly conceived and executed, shooting up onto the screen. As if someone took the Limitless pill and spent a day letting the mind roam down any highway of its choice.
I think of it this way, because I’m incredibly self-centered, and it helps me to relate things to my own life experience. Wait, what? Lots of people do that?!? Wow. Anyhow.
A man’s at the end of his rope, creatively, so he goes to see a therapist in the hopes of escaping this nagging writer’s block. Eventually the therapist helps the writer into a sort of tunnel vision. Forget your anxiety over the reception your work will receive; write like you would when you were a kid. What do you have to lose, anyway?
This is obviously not the origin story behind Masaaki Yuasa’s masterpiece, Mind Game, but you might forgive me for it. This film is so overwhelming, my senses remain so fried, even the morning after seeing it, that I’m surprised I didn’t concoct something more surreal. Great art infects you like that. It makes you want to enter into the world you’ve watched unfold.
The images in this anime hit me at such a prodigious rate that, on my way home, I noticed my mind whirring far faster than normal. Upon the film’s release, back in 2004, Yuasa said that he was going for more of a wild and patchy aesthetic. Images flitting this way and that. Kind of how thoughts work.
Now, I have to get to the reason this movie resonated with me so forcefully. In fact, it’s so important, and the way Yuasa did it is so brilliant, that I’ll break my rule of not giving away spoilers. Wait: no, actually, I won’t give anything away, because it’s too good. You deserve to find out for yourself.
Suffice to say that the main character, a 20-year-old nobody in Osaka during the lead-up to the 2002 World Cup, is suddenly blessed with a sense of focus after years of aimless drifting. This is Yuasa’s masterstroke: showing how the sheer volume of choice we encounter in this modern age overwhelms us to the extent of metaphorical paralysis. Young men become zombies. Inertia isn’t a scientific fact for nothing.
It doesn’t seem surprising that it took time for this film to gain an audience in Japan. I’m reminded of what Michael Caine’s character says in The Prestige, after witnessing Borden’s The Disappearing Man trick. It’s genius is so profound that it overwhelms the audience. They’ve never seen anything like this before, and they don’t know how to process it. Too new, too much to take in at once. One senses Christopher Nolan making the same claim in the film for Tesla’s scientific contributions, which, for the era, were pretty much magic.
Mind Game’s mix of animation techniques, combined with editing techniques that wouldn’t be out of place in the most forward-thinking New Wave film, sometimes left the audience able to do no more than offer up a mouth agape in amazement. There’s a reason it has yet to find firm footing, although I will say that the theater I saw it in was packed, and boisterous in its reaction. And this was a 9:15 showing on Monday night.
From *that* turning point in the film, where the drifting 20-year-old finally finds his feet, this turns into a classic. You fly along at a million miles an hour as this kid makes an effort to live life to the fullest. That sense of focus he found blesses him with a rock-solid foundation; he realizes that he is now confident enough to embrace a suitably frenetic lifestyle.
And why not? Life’s too short not to try stuff. To try lots and lots of stuff. That fear you encounter over the prospect of the NEW is warranted; it stems from so many years of evolution. But try stuff anyway. You learn afterwards that sometimes, it’s really good. Sometimes, not so much so. Either way, stagnating until you’re six feet under, able only to spare a passing thought before your passing: I wish I’d done more—certainly sucks more than the alternative.
So thank you, Mr. Yuasa, for granting me courage to embrace the weird.