It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any updates, and while I’ve always meant to get something written up, I always found excuses not to. But with the recent passing of Satoshi Kon, it would be remiss of me not to post up my thoughts of the career of one of the truly great anime directors. First I’ll give a brief rundown on his works as director, along with my thoughts of each and then I’ll end with some closing thoughts on his career in general.
Perfect Blue (1998)
This was my first experience with the directing talents of Mr. Kon, as well as his directorial debut. Back in 2001 when I was just starting to get into actually buying DVDs of anime, I asked around which titles I should own. Among the responses, Perfect Blue kept coming up, so I decided to give it a shot. Back then I didn’t really follow anime websites or magazines, nor was torrenting really a driving force, so this was a complete blind buy for me. What I got really opened my eyes to what anime could be like. Before this, anime to me largely was giant robots blowing things up, or martial arts masters powering up for 20 episodes and blowing things up. Never did I think that anime would be an effective means for bringing me a psychological thriller that so blurred the lines between reality and fiction. Plus, it tells a tale of obsession for idols in Japan that rings just as true today as it did back in 1998, as one can see happening between Aya Hirano and the degenerates of 2ch.
Millennium Actress (2001)
Next up for Mr. Kon was Millennium Actress. A popular, recurring theme in most of his works is the blurring of the lines between reality and fiction and this movie brought it to an even higher level than Perfect Blue. The biggest difference between the two is Millennium Actress is a lot more light hearted in tone than the fairly dark Perfect Blue was, even if the argument can be made that it doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. Throughout the film, we are brought through the life of an actress as she recounts her career and her search for the love of her life. However, it’s shown by placing the people telling the tale into the movies of her career and then popping back into reality, sometimes leaving one to wonder what was real and what was scripted. Such a directing technique does come with the risk of turning viewers off if it gets too convoluted, but Satoshi Kon knew just the right amount of tweaking to do to keep one thinking, but turn into outright confusion for the sake of confusion.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
For his third film, Satoshi Kon put the blurring of reality and fiction on the back burner and instead focused more on the human relations. Tokyo Godfathers looks at the lives of three homeless people and a baby they find on Christmas Eve. While the story told here is a bit more straightforward than his other offerings, it has a lot more emotional impact as you find out what led each of these three to where they are, and also what led the baby to being abandoned. Rest assured, the story doesn’t get to its conclusion without a couple twists and turns along the way, but this one has the closest to a happy ending as any of his movies. The fact that it manages to tell a compelling tale without having to use his psychological tool shows why Satoshi Kon was such a respected director.
Paranoia Agent (2004)
This marks Satoshi Kon’s first and only foray into directing a television series, and if Tokyo Godfathers was him taking a break from the psychological aspect of his stories, Paranoia Agent more than makes up for the lost time. The show centers upon a police investigation into a series of attacks on people by a boy with a golden bat. But, as I said, this is a return to form for Mr. Kon, and so there’s much more to this than merely some attacks. Plus, add in the fact that in each case after the attacks, the people feel almost grateful for it as it seemed to help them fix their various stresses in life and you have a story that will keep you wondering right up until the end. Admittedly, there are times when it seems like the story is going to get out of control, and it’s easy to see that Mr. Kon is much more comfortable creating feature length films rather than regular television series, but the fact that it still manages to work shows the true talents of the man. I feel confident that had he lived longer, we would have seen another series from him, and since he already had the experience under his belt, he could have done an even better job than the already fine showing he did here.
His most recent completed work was 2006’s Paprika. A big theme in this movie is dreams, so as you can imagine the lines between reality and fiction get blurred once again. In fact, they’re so blurred, that they often wind up breaking the fourth wall within the context of the movie to the point where dreams and reality become one and the same. While personally not my favorite movie of his, it shows that even though he uses the same theme throughout most of his works, he still is able to tell a compelling story each time without it feeling predictable and tired.
Satoshi Kon was working on a new film set to release in 2011 called Yume Miru Kikai, or The Dream Machine. Sadly, due to his untimely death, the status of the film is now unknown. One would imagine that production will continue, and hopefully Mr. Kon shared his vision of the film with others so that it may be completed as he would have wanted it to be. The head of Madhouse Studios, for which Mr. Kon was working, stated it was a sudden death from cancer, although Japanese entertainment firms are notorious for their privacy and the privacy of their talent so just how long Mr. Kon had been afflicted with the disease is hard to say. Whether or not this film sees the light of day, one of the shining lights of the anime industry has sadly been extinguished far too early. With the dearth of talented young anime directors, this loss will be felt all the more acutely. Rest in peace, Mr. Kon, you will be sorely missed.