"Mind Game" (2004) Retrospect Review
So, there's a scene in this movie where the main character literally runs on individual molecules of air.
Since this is the first anime film review I've put up on this site, I should explain something real quick: I'm not an expert on anime, especially in the realm of TV shows. I have a better grasp on anime films in theory, but I haven't even seen all of Hayao Miyazaki's films, and he's arguably the most mainstream anime director in the U.S., specifically between his films Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. To be clear, I've seen both of those and even some of his more obscure movies (Porco Rosso is a work of art so perfect that I literally don't know how to write a review for it), but I haven't seen his newer films like Ponyo and The Wind Rises.
And he's just one director in the medium. It has far more legends than him, including the likes of Hideaki Anno, Mamoru Oshii, Satoshi Kon, and many many more, some of whose work I've literally never heard of.
That's all to say that I had to ask around about Masaaki Yuasa when I finished watching Mind Game. I had to know if other anime films were this... Bonkers. I've seen a few films from Satoshi Kon that are infamously off the rails (Paprika and Perfect Blue), but Mind Game made those films look like the work of a perfectly banal individual. My understanding is that Masaaki Yuasa's style is fiercely unique and completely off the wall by design, and I believe the "design" part in particular. Animation is an arduous medium built frame by frame by frame. Which means if you want to commit the kind of madness that Mind Game doubles down, you have to carefully plan it.
I can't believe that someone had to storyboard a scene where a man meets God and God turns into a goldfish smoking a cigarette among countless other forms.
To say Mind Game is "not for everyone" is an understatement of the highest order. The animation styles will change multiple times inside of the same scene, almost as rapidly as the plot itself changes. One minute, it's about a man rediscovering his grade-school sweetheart, the next, a film about encountering the Yakuza. And from there it continues to escalate into to complete madness involving a giant whale.
Even more surprising though is how well that plot works. Animation knows that it can stretch the boundaries of reality better than live-action filmmaking can, and Mind Game embraces that for its visuals. But it tells stories of simple human concepts like love, friendship, and wondering "what could have been" for a brisk hour and forty-three minutes. It has some heady ideas, but even those ideas are told in kinetic off-the-wall fashion.
I can't emphasize enough how completely bonkers Mind Game really is without giving too much away. The film literally has no restraint whatsoever. It's as juvenile as it pleases, as delightful as it pleases, as sexual as it pleases, and as violent as it pleases. In some ways, its madness harkens back to the beginnings of animation, when animators went completely off the rails in the pre-code era. Sometimes it even feels like the old school animation of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones in terms of constructing incredible visual gags, but if that animation had decided to snort fat rails of cocaine.
Mind Game is deliriously entertaining, usually at the cost of any kind of human logic that tends to apply to film. But Mind Game doesn't have time to care about those kinds of things and just goes for it, usually with staggering results. Personally, I loved it, but I wouldn't blame anyone who taps out a few minutes into watching it from the weirdness. If you're a fan of weird animation though, you should probably do just fine.