Fear Takes The Shape We Are Willing To Give It: Mind Game (2004)

Here I was, post viewing of Fantastic Planet, rather certain that I had explored all the possibilities and corners of the animated film, and was entirely sold that Satoshi Kon would be the height of Japan's particular anime leanings, however, when I discovered that the late director had championed a work I should have expected it to at the very best rival his films and at the very least explore some of the same territory.  While I will always respect Akira as the seminal work in anime, consider Paprika the point of absolute deconstruction of linear narrative expectations, while adoring Howl's Moving Castle as the classicist anime, what is at work in Masaaki Yuasa's Mind Game is one of the most revelatory, celebratory and outright challenging works in the canon of animated films, comparing perhaps even with the great works of spatial and temporal reconsideration in all of cinema.  I found myself constant shifting my viewing expectations throughout the film, sometimes being lulled into the sensuous colors of certain scenes, only to have them slashed into black and white dreariness, or in most instances taken to an even higher hallucinatory level.  In a couple of the film's moments I found myself changing expectations and understanding relative to each frame within a montage, whose juxtaposition was so clearly considered and organized as to work on a psychological level equitable to that of the Soviet montage.  It is glaringly obvious that Yuasa is not merely a filmmaker who knows how to make a cool looking film, but one that desires to engage with as much of cinematic theory and history as possible, both as it relates to his field of animation, as well as its larger place within the framework of cinema as a reflection of the mind's eye or in a French New Wave approach, an absolute truth that reflects the disillusions of society.  Mind Game is a ton of things, none of which are misguided, half-boiled or poorly delivered, in fact, this movie begs to be carefully considered frame-by-frame, so much so that I found myself pausing, hoping that some degree of osmosis would allow for the bombardment of imagery, commentary and overall visceral pleasure to properly wash over me, instead, what I am left with post viewing is a wild desire to simply press play again and see where the connections emerge in a film that takes the idea of enigmatic narrative to a whole new place.

Attacking the narrative of Mind Game is daunting, considering that to a considerable degree it is a series of cyclical events interweaving together, or perhaps a dream sequence bookended between two parallel visions, that are possibly within their own diagetic vision, it is tough to say.  There are, however, moments that tie together to at least glean some possibility of a protagonist in the character of Nishi, a soft-spoken manga artist whose chance reencounter with a former crush Myon results in his being dragged to Myon's family restaurant where he meets up with Myon's sister Jiisan and their less than likable father who only seems concerned with his own sexual conquest.  Within moments of being there, Nishi who is trying to outshine Myon's romantic interest, becomes, along with the other members of the restaurant part of a stick up as a mysterious man in black and brutish enraged soccer player begin making a mess of the place, violently attacking those in the restaurant.  At one point, Nishi is shot by the soccer player, leading to his own near death experience, before assumedly being reincarnated and afforded a second chance to stifle the attack, this time successfully killing the soccer player and stealing the man in black's car taking the sisters along with him as he proceeds to flee the city, the lackeys of a mob boss chasing him along in the process.  This second chance at life leads to Nishi throwing caution to the wind in this chase, ramping of truck beds and speeding much to the frustration of the pursuers.  Eventually, trapped by an insurmountable roadblock, Nishi ramps the car off of a bridge which will lead to his and the sisters' certain death, yet as though by divine intervention, a whale leaps out of the water and swallows the car, with its passenger.  Confused initially by their survival, the group finds themselves in a Jonah like situation eventually running into a large boat, occupied by an old man who has been living in the belly of the beast for thirty plus years.  He explains that it is a futile effort to escape from the whale, because the nature of his feeding and breathing cause waves to push boats backwards.  The desperation felt by the group, leads into a series of hallucinatory spirals and visions that become the narrative framing for the remainder of the film and their style is so non-normative and transcendent that to even provide a vague explanation would be to betrays its unfolding intensity.

I was mesmerized by a variety of elements in this film, particularly the suggestion that identity is something that is constantly evolving and reshaping itself to afforded the most ideal presence in a situation.  Indeed, one could call Mind Game the cinematic equivalent of a chameleon, but even that would be a false moniker, because it suggest an evolutionary necessity of survival.  The narrative that Yuasa provides viewers with is far from concerned with safety and survival of the fittest, indeed the film almost seems certain that it is only through reckless behavior that any notion of survival is afforded.  The characters who fair well in this film are in a incessant state of motion, which allows for them to move through the boundaries of the living and the dead, while in other moments defying physics for extended periods of time.  Yet, the film seems to also suggest that while much of this dynamic presence exists in the physical, it is more often a result of allowing one to free themselves from the mental constraints of a singular experiential frame of reference.  Indeed, this is where Yuasa manages to extend even beyond the wild visions of Kon.  I would never suggest that Kon did not push the images that occupied his films to their farthest parameters, but it is worth noting that in even his best work Paprika the bodies that occupy the space remain visually the same, even when their space movies between two dimensions.  In Mind Game both the characters and the spaces move about from live-action stop motion as the most grounded visuals, to highly impressionist works that are would be nearly indistinguishable were it not for the preceding or following images to add a shade of context.  Yet even these styles betray a possibility of grounded identity, because they constantly shift from the memories and daydreams of the various characters, to the point that even in the closing moments of the film, it is unclear as to whose story the viewer has just watched, or if it was indeed any story at all.  While they are stylistically as opposite as possible, I can only think to compare Mind Game to Chris Marker's La Jetee, in so much as both seem to posit a world where things are in constant motion, and it is rare, if not near impossible for things to ever coalesce into perfect harmony, but when they do it proves to be nothing short of beautiful.

Key Scene:  The last twenty minutes of this film will cause you to reconsider everything you have previously understood about film.  Trust me, I swear by this statement.

So I had to use creative methods to hunt down this film, but I am seriously considering selling a kidney to get hyper-rare this DVD.

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