MIND GAME. The animation that inspired the creators of “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

The creator of “Mind Game” is currently the leading surrealist in Japanese animation, holding this title alone after the untimely death of Satoshi Kon.

Jan Brzozowski

8 July 2024

mind games

Nishi is a classic cinematic underdog: shy, unhappily in love, and a budding artist. Cinema has loved such characters at least since the times of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton: crushed by life, curling up inside themselves. Nothing is as satisfying as their slow transformation from zero to hero. However, Nishi doesn’t have much time for such a transformation. The girl he loves suddenly finds herself in mortal danger – two gangsters burst into the bar, brandishing loaded guns. At first, Nishi trembles with fear, but eventually decides to react. The reckless gangster, who is also a key player on the local soccer team, doesn’t even let him finish his sentence – he shoots Nishi in the butt and with a perverse smile on his face, pulls the trigger. Nishi dies in particularly humiliating circumstances: pierced through, on the floor of a seedy sushi bar. Of course, Mind Game doesn’t end at this point.

For Masaaki Yuasa, death is merely a starting point. The creator of “Mind Game” is currently the leading surrealist in Japanese animation, holding this title alone after the untimely death of Satoshi Kon. Before becoming a full-time animator, he completed his painting studies in his hometown of Fukuoka, inspired by Salvador Dali’s paintings. In his statements about his creative process, one can hear distant echoes of the surrealists’ “automatic writing” method, popularized by André Breton: the director claims that when starting a film, he never knows where it will lead. The plot comes to him during the work, creating itself, along with the rest of the work. Therefore, Nishi’s death in “Mind Game” is nothing final. The hero argues with God, or some other metaphysical being, for a second chance. And he gets it – or not. It all depends on our interpretation.

mind games

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with “Mind Game,” noted Adriana Prodeus, sketching Yuasa’s creative profile in the pages of “Kino.” “It’s a wild ride through a million unexperienced lives, an ocean of untapped potentials. And formally, a vast array of techniques: screen printing, painterly impasto, comics, cartoons, cut-outs, and actors’ faces. As if the world of imagination had no boundaries and it was hard to keep up with it while wanting to stay true to it.” The most exciting thing about watching “Mind Game” is precisely this lack of boundaries: it’s as if Yuasa made it a point of honor to constantly surprise us, minimizing boredom to an absolute minimum. He continually mixes techniques while ensuring continuity in the twists and turns of the plot – always unpredictable, dictated by the murky logic of a dream or a drug trip. A crazy escape from Yakuza squads ends in the belly of a whale, and “Enter the Void” officially meets “Pinocchio.” The stay in the belly of the great fish can be read as a veiled metaphor for purgatory. The heroes, cut off from the outside world, contemplate their past, repeatedly analyzing the decisions they made. They indulge in hedonistic practices, only to later see the futility of their existence. As a result, they come to appreciate real life anew – the simple everyday life they lost.

In the climactic montage sequence, stretched over a good few minutes, Nishi and his fellow sufferers make a heroic attempt to escape. They build a motor-powered boat and then accelerate using the sea currents inside the whale. When the boat fails, they simply start running on the water – as fast as they can. More obstacles come at them from above: giant ships, trains, airplanes. Whatever the director had in mind at the time. But they don’t care, bravely pushing forward: towards the surface, towards life.

mind games

This complex, incredibly intense sequence has become a permanent fixture in the history of Japanese animation. And not only that. It also impressed Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the creators of “Swiss Army Man” and the Oscar-winning “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Kwan lists “Mind Game” among his greatest cinematic inspirations: “The last half-hour moved me greatly. And there isn’t even a single line of dialogue. It’s pure chaos. I thought that if I could achieve something similar in a live-action film, I would be very happy.” In hindsight, it seems he succeeded. Just look again at the final fight sequence in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – drawing heavily from the abstract ending of “Mind Game.”

A parable about emotional maturity and taking responsibility for one’s life. The pre-death convulsions of a mind hit by a bullet. An expressive ode to the simple, everyday pleasures that imperceptibly determine the quality of our existence. Choose for yourself. Yuasa, like a true surrealist, imposes nothing on us in “Mind Game,” remaining – from beginning to end – at the service of his own unfettered imagination.

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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