You could say Masaaki Yuasa’s anime cult classic is like Heaven Can Wait on some serious psychedelic hallucinogens. Or maybe it is more like Pinocchio, but still on mind-melting acid or mescaline. Kids, there is no need for drugs when this movie exists. Strange and inconsistent, but clearly the work of a mad genius, Yuasa’s freshly restored Mind Game (trailer here) opens this Friday in New York, at the Metrograph.
Yuasa’s recent films, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl and Lu Over the Wall have been acquired by GKIDS, who are also distributing Mind Game, but parents and patrons should understand clearly and explicitly there is some very adult content in Yuasa’s semi-notorious 2004 provocation, but his hyper-kinetic stylistic blender might be even more off-putting for young viewers. Yuasa mashes together dozens of animation forms, including some deliberately ugly, highly stylized live action sequences, but always with a purpose, mind you.
Narrative is not a strictly linear business in Mind Game, but it largely follows thusly. Nishi is a profoundly morose slacker, who happens to meet up with Myon, the old not-quite girlfriend for whom he has been eating his heart out since their high school days. At the neighborhood ramen spot run by her sister Yan, Nishi had hoped to proclaim his love for her, but instead he meets her emasculating fiancé and is shot dead by an ex-soccer star turned Yakuza.
Nope, that’s not the end. Resentful that the disinterested God will not give him an opportunity for reincarnation, Nishi makes a break for it back to Earth. Coming to seconds before his murder, Nishi turns the tables on the Yakuza and drags the confused Myon and Yan on a mad getaway flight that ends in the belly of a whale. Therein starts the second act.
Actually, mid-section gets rather bogged down in the whale’s belly, which is the film’s greatest drawback. Frankly, there is a whole lot of story told in elliptical fragments that could have replaced some of the whale languor. Granted, there is a point to it all, that is actually totally on-point for our time: the uncertainty of real life is ultimately preferably to the safety of a whale’s belly (embroider that on a throw pillow), but viewers will miss the manic eccentricity that came before.
Or not. This is definitely a film for adventurous cult movie fans. Thematically, it shares some similarities with Night is Short, Yuasa’s best film to date, but aesthetically, Mind Game is entirely its own creature. Essentially, you just need to roll with it, as it starts, stalls, and goes in dozens of directions simultaneously. If you latch on to its wavelength, at some point, the unruliness starts to click, but don’t beat yourself up if you never get there. Still, this is a film serious fans and scholars of animation will have to deal with, because it is so singular. Recommended for the rude and bold, Mind Games opens this Friday (3/2), at the Metrograph.