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'Mind Game'

A virtuoso narrative loop-the-loop that travels through a phantasmagoric catalog of animation styles, Mind Game is not just one of the most fantastically experimental anime features seen stateside. It's a superflat cousin to the grown-up cartoon head trips of the '60s and '70s like Yellow Submarine, Fritz the Cat, or Fantastic Planet, replete with grand metaphysical themes, gloriously extended avant-psychedelic sequences, and Japanified bits of Bakshian bawdiness. Though director Massaki Yuasa eschews typical anime roundness for characters sketched in lanky angularity, flashbacks and fantasies visit hyper-kawaii lands resembling Astroboy-Pokemon kid vid, re-envisioned as sugary-sinister dreamscapes. The film's line drawings become punctuated with momentary lapses into rotoscoped photographs, rendered with a digital roughness reminiscent of sticker-booth surrealism. All scrunched together into a dense marathon of optical-cranial overload, this mental puzzle-box arrives three decades too late for what would have been an inevitable midnight movie run, but undoubtedly there are American otakus popping this one into multi-region DVD players right now amid the glorbeling of bong hits.

Details

Mind Game
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
September 2 through 5 and 9 and 10, MOMA

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The film's temporal Escherings ensure that chemical additives would be superfluous. As unstuck in time as George Roy Hill's Slaughterhouse-Five, Mind Game opens with a barrage-collage of split-second moments that play like an animated found-footage film, but whose seeming randomness becomes dispelled at film's end in a now decodable recapitulation. In between, hero Nishi—a milquetoasty manga artist unable to summon the gumption to woo his high school sweetheart, Myon—dies from a yakuza's rectal gun-blast, ascends into heaven to argue with a polymorphous God, escapes from the empyrean for an earthly re-do, and ends up inside the belly of a whale, where he meets an aged castaway who has befriended the leviathan's inner ecology of extinct species. Mind Game's choose-life exuberance matches the sentiment hurled by its bitch-slap ping God at Nishi's whimpering shade: "I made you, dipshit, for my sheer enjoyment!"

 
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