This week, I had the privilege of being invited by Cornell Cinema to preview the film Mind Game, which will be screening this Friday and Saturday. Mind Game is a Japanese movie from 2004, directed by Masaaki Yuasa and Kôji Morimoto. It’s received critical praise from festivals around the world, but has seen limited release to general viewers. Over the past couple years, though, it’s finally been filtering into theaters, so the chance to see it here at Cornell is truly a rare experience. And what an experience it is! Mind Game is one of the strangest, most boldly cacophonous films I’ve ever seen.
Mind Game opens with a montage that shows random moments of people’s lives, yet unconnected. Eventually the film focuses on a young man named Nishi (Kôji Imada), who runs into a his lifelong sweetheart Myon (Sayaka Maeda). He follows her to her family’s diner, just in time for a pair of gangsters to arrive and hold up the place, demanding to see her father. One gangster in particular shoots Nishi, killing him instantly. Nishi ends up in the afterlife, where he meets God, who in this movie is a flippant, uncaring being, taking dozens of different forms. God orders Nishi to proceed into “the light” to fade away, but Nishi refuses though, and instead claws his way back to life, determined to make his second chance count.
One of the first things you’ll notice in Mind Game is the sheer manic energy that pervades the film. One of the most notable features is the constantly changing art style. Characters go from cartoonish to hyper-realistic, then swing back to abstract, and then back once more. Live-action footage gets overlaid at points, as well as photographed cut-outs. Computer generated images also appear. It’s a mad hodge-podge of animation media and styles that makes it feel like a psychedelic collage put on screen. It’s no mere gimmick either — a lot of effort has been put in to take these different methods and push them to their extremes. The result makes Yellow Submarine look like a cold grey bureaucracy.
Now during this mad rush of visuals, I began to feel exhausted at a certain point. At this point, however, the movie seemed to get exhausted with me. Things dialed back, letting me digest what had just been thrown at me. The film takes the time to be quiet and somber as well as crazed and hyper, and that’s very important. By hitting the low beats as well as the high ones, it puts together an emotionally driven narrative — things don’t always make logical sense, but I still felt myself carried along. It left me uncomfortable at parts, pensieve at others, thrilled at yet others… and a whole mess of puzzled as well.
But what does this narrative say? In the end, it gives us a meditation about different approaches to life, and the consequences that they face. Should we live life timid and afraid, to be used? Should we be reckless and fast-paced? Should we be carefree and withdrawn, with no concerns? Or is there a different, better path? In all honesty, this is just what I’ve found in my first day after my first viewing. The longer I have to unwind this film, and the more times I view it, I feel like I’ll draw even more from it.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is the opening montage. As I described above, the montage seems to be random events happening to random people. When it repeats at the end of the film, though, I realized that had in fact been about all the characters of the film — even the minor characters who only got a single scene. It shows a lengthy backstory spanning decades. With context, and after seeing the montage a second time, I got more out of it.
So it is with the entirety of Mind Game. I’d be lying if I said I understood all of it. It left me puzzled at parts, and it pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Just like a roller coaster, though, I have to say I’m really very glad it did. It’s definitely a film like no other. It’s loud and it’s proud. Again, we’re very lucky to have the chance to experience it at Cornell. It’s definitely worth a watch — and then some.
David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.