Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

A Psychedelic Retrospective

Masaaki Yuasa’s Mind Game, a psychedelic, mind-bending anime that debuted in 2004, quickly became a classic. In some ways, people have described the plot as Pulp Fiction meets Robot Chicken, winning various awards. Apart from beating out cult classics like Hayao Miyazaki’s most notable works, such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, in Yuasa’s brainchild, the film puts it bluntly but seriously, opting for a patchwork yet wild look.

Indeed, fans of Japanese animation need not demand something so polished. While they can throw a different style at them, they can usually still enjoy it. On the other hand, the film proves that rough animation with Pandora’s Box ideas and a mind-bending plot can make for a good film. The plot tells the story of Nishi. He is a 20-year-old geek who draws and wants to become a comic artist.

He runs into his childhood crush, Myon, on the subway one night. Nishi tells her that he has always loved Myon. However, he told her that he was too late and Myon would marry another man. They decided to hang out for a while and went to Myon’s father’s restaurant. Myon’s father and eldest brother, Yan, were in the restaurant, while Nishi was also in the restaurant.

The Yakuza

At the same time, Myon’s fiancé, Ryo, arrives. Outside the restaurant, two yakuza gangsters stop and enter the restaurant looking for Myon’s father. One of the yakuza members, Atsu, is angry because Myon’s father seduced and stole Atsu’s girlfriend. He threatens Ryo with a gun, so Ryo tries to do something. However, he was knocked out, and Atsu tried to take advantage of Myon. When he saw Nishi, he walked towards him.

He puts his gun to Nishi’s buttocks, and it explodes, killing Nishi, and the yakuza senior kills Atsu out of anger at what Atsu has done. When Nishi entered the limbo world, he met God. His enthusiasm for another opportunity in life impressed God greatly. God allows Nishi to escape into the living world, returning to the exact moment before Atsu pulled his trigger. When Nishi grabs Atsu’s gun with his buttocks, the gun kills him.

Nishi and his friends steal a yakuza car and go into high pursuit, followed closely behind by the yakuza mob. When the yakuza calls the car phone, Atsu tells Nishi that he is a player on the Japan national soccer team. While being distracted by a mob forcing the car over the bridge, Nishi drives the car off the bridge.

The Whale

Suddenly, a very large whale ate them. Inside the whale, they meet an old man who is a former member of the yakuza. He had been trapped in the whale’s stomach for more than 30 years. When he brought Nishi and his friends to his custom house, Nishi tried to escape from the whale’s belly but failed. On the other hand, Myon is practicing swimming, and Yan is teaching her dance.

Nishi practices drawing manga and try to leave the whale but fails again. The old man reveals that the water level inside the whale is rising, thinking that the whale might be dying. They build motorboats using spare parts. Fueled by the car they came in, before the final of the football World Cup, the whales returned to their hometown. Nishi and company fled once more, this time flying out of the whale through the air. In the final sequence, it returns to the first scene with Myon running from the yakuza.

In the sequence, Myon’s foot doesn’t get caught in the train door, and the yakuza are left on the train platform. Most directors, including Miyazaki, are merely individuals who play a role on one side of a medium. However, anime as a medium has more legends than Miyazaki himself.

Smoking Goldfish

Satoshi Kon and Hideaki Anno are also just two people on the surface when we talk about the medium. To say that Yuasa is one of the directors who have the insane ability to put so many things into full effect, his filmography, along with Mind Game, puts him on the list. The film itself becomes an individual work superficially when the audience doesn’t know who it is or Yuasa’s unique style.

Despite being completely absurd because of its design, it plays a special role. Yuasa is the director who understands how animation acts as a medium that is very difficult to capture frame by frame. His vision and scenario, in which a man meets God; God turns into a smoking goldfish, are just another form of his idea. If we say Mind Game are not for everyone, that would be an understatement of the highest order.

The animation style will often change within the same scene. Not to mention, the plot itself changes many times. At one minute, the film is about a man who rediscovers his crush from elementary school. The film explores the protagonist’s encounter with the yakuza at two and five minutes. In thirty minutes, it escalates into complete madness involving a giant whale.

Simple Human Concepts

However, the plot works very well. Animation knows that it can stretch the boundaries of reality better than film adaptations can. Mind Game applies it to the visuals, telling stories about simple human concepts such as friendship, love, and existence. For one hour and forty minutes, the film has heady ideas. However, Yuasa conveys the ideas through kinetic forces outside the walls. Admittedly, we can’t underscore how crazy the film is without giving too much away.

In simple terms, it doesn’t have any limitations. In specific matters, the madness returns to the beginning of the animation. When the animators do get off track in the pre-code era, the visuals feel like Chuck Jones, René Laloux, and Ralph Bakshi animated them all together. It builds all kinds of amazing visual jokes. However, the animation has decided to snort cocaine. The film is very entertaining without sacrificing any kind of human logic that applies to film.

However, Mind Game didn’t have time to care about such things. It just does it arbitrarily, with astonishing results. As sad as it is dark, Mind Game is a great example of how different animation styles can come together to make a great film.


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