Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remembering 今敏 (Kon Satoshi)

今敏 -- 1963年10月12日 - 2010年8月24日
Satoshi Kon -- October 12, 1963 - August 24, 2010

Satoshi Kon, the famous anime director, died from pancreatic cancer this Tuesday, that is, August 24, 2010, at the age of 46. His work has always been some of my favorite, so I have decided to give a brief recount of his work in memory of him. I do not know much about his work as animator or other roles, so I will focus on his directorial work. To be even more specific, I will discuss his work which I have seen; this includes everything except the 2004 series Paranoia Agent.

Perfect Blue (1997)

Perfect Blue was Kon-sensei’s directorial debut. Based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, this film is a psychological thriller that can cause quite a shock. This film is not for the weak-hearted. There are some pretty disturbing things in this movie: its story revolves around a pop star who decides to become an actress, but then she begins to be stalked by a dangerous person. Kon-sensei’s films often have a way of bending reality, and Perfect Blue does so by including the main character’s seeming second personality. The movie can be a bit confusing at times, and there are some fairly disturbing scenes in it, but it’s a well-made and fascinating film. I’d personally give it probably an 8/10.

An interesting fact about this film: it was a prime source of inspiration for the film Requiem for a Dream. In fact, it was so inspiring that the director of the previous-mentioned film, Darren Aronofsky, bought the rights for Perfect Blue so he could recreate one scene, shot-for-shot, where a character is sitting in a bathtub, sticks her head underwater, and screams silently, releasing a flow of bubbles.

Millennium Actress (2001)

Kon-sensei’s sophomoric directorial effort is, in my humble opinion, a brilliant film. Unlike the previous work, which was adapted from a novel, Millennium Actress is an original story created by Kon-sensei, who (as in many of his works) helped write the screenplay. It tells the story of a pair of reporters who get an exclusive interview with an old former actress as a memorial to the company she usually worked with, which was closing its doors for good. The actress explains her life story and her acting roles; the two mesh together so well that it can often be difficult to tell if you’re watching her life or one of her movies. That’s how Kon-sensei messes with reality in this film. It’s a beautifully-made and powerful film (which is sadly the only of Kon-sensei’s films with is out of print, even though I think it won the most awards). The animation is a large step up from Perfect Blue (a 4-year gap can allow that), and the music is wonderful. Susumu Hirasawa, a somewhat eccentric Japanese musician whose music is best described as electronic, was signed on to create the music for the film, and his style fits perfectly with Kon-sensei’s (which leads to his work on another of his films later on). This film also offers much food for thought on the topics of infatuation and love, along with some bits about fame (which is a more prominent theme in Perfect Blue). I need to watch it again, but I’d probably give Millennium Actress a 10/10. I have a feeling many will remember it as Kon-sensei’s best film.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

This, Kon-sensei’s third film, is my least favorite of his works, but it’s still a good film. Another original story, Tokyo Godfathers follows a trio of homeless people as they try to return a lost baby to its parents on Christmas Eve. It’s the only of Kon-sensei’s films to not involve some twisting of reality (which I think is what draws me into his work the most). The animation is a step up from his previous work (since animation technology grows more advanced each year), and the music was composed by the same man who composed the soundtrack to the classic Super Nintendo game Earthbound (I prefer Susumu Hirasawa’s music, though). I’m not really sure why this film did not connect with me as much as his other works (unless it was due to lack of reality-bending, as I mentioned earlier), but even so, it’s still a good film, one I’d give a 7/10.

Paprika (2006)

Paprika is my favorite of Kon-sensei’s films, hands down. It’s based on a 1993 novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, a novel including many real dreams of the author. The story revolves around a device called the DC Mini that enables one to enter someone’s dreams for the purpose of psychoanalysis. When one of these devices is stolen, havoc erupts (to summarize the rest of the film very vaguely). Much of the film takes place within dreams (to an extent), which means that the film lends itself to extreme surrealism. Sometimes the dream events can go to the point of being psychologically disturbing, at least to some of my friends who have I watched it. I found it more intriguing and fascinating than anything else. This film has some of the best animation I’ve seen, especially with its mixture of 2D and 3D animation to create some of the dream worlds. The music is absolutely phenomenal: Susumu Hirasawa returns again, and the combination of his unique sound and Kon-sensei’s surreal film create a one-of-a-kind experience. Though the plot can become incredibly obfuscated (I’m not sure if it’s actually possible to understand it all), the film is all in all an absolutely breathtaking and mind-blowing experience. I’d definitely give Paprika a 10/10.

There’s also lots of interesting trivia facts about this film. For instance, the novelist voices one of the characters in the film, one half of a pair of butlers. And guess who voices the other half? Kon-sensei himself! This is his only voice acting role, and it gives viewers a chance to hear the late director’s voice. Another thing about the film is that it was a big influence on the recent American film about dreams, Inception. Also, Wolfgang Petersen, director of such popular films as The NeverEnding Story, Air Force One, and Troy, is currently working on a live-action adaptation of Paprika (an adaptation of Kon-sensei’s film, not the original novel directly).


All in all, then, Kon-sensei was an astounding director. His films explored human psychology in depth, and they twisted reality in novel ways. His films are each one-of-a-kind, and he put his heart and soul into each one. They often took longer to make than originally predicted because Kon-sensei would spend so much time storyboarding each shot of each scene; he also worked on art direction for most of his films, besides just being a director (to top that, he often worked on the screenplay as well). His directing was much more than just telling people where to go: each film was a specific vision of his that he worked diligently to turn into reality. The world of anime has suffered a great loss with his passing. He left strong, though: in his last blog post, “さようなら” (Farewell), posted in his behalf today, he ended with these words:

With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen.
Well, I'll be leaving now.

Satoshi Kon

Rest in peace, Satoshi Kon. Blessed repose and eternal memory.

Nota Bene: All images are from Google Image Search. Thanks to Wikipedia for background information on these films.

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