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.
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!”