Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...
- How FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST Saved Anime (For Me) *** SAILOR MOON is for Boys (Too)!
- KINGDOM HEARTS Rescued an Anime Fan *** The Art of the Remake Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3
- The Do's & Dont's of Conventions *** For Under-Rated "Japanimation" *** Capcom vs. Alex!
- America in Anime * Why the EVA Rebuilds are Trivial * It's Not So Fun to be an American Otaku in Japan?
- A Photologue of Nerdy Japan * Real Japanese Cuisine for the Traveling Otaku * Stop Hating on DBZ!
- Live ZELDA Music: an Epic Win? * Shopping for an Anime Nerd * Art Matters in Anime, Damn It!
Another disturbing trend I've noticed in anime fandom is an eagerness to worship fictional characters, but completely ignore creators. This is actually (embarrassingly) unique to our specific brand of nerd. Comics fanboys wait in hour-long lines to meet artists and writers. Sci-fi nerds write actors love letters and put the writers of the source material on a pedestal. Horror nerds keep track of writers, directors, even make-up artists involved with the movies they like!
So why not us?
I know you think you’re destined to marry Edward Elric, but the day will eventually come when you realize he’s a drawing and therefore completely incapable of loving you back. However, real living people are responsible for creating these characters, cartoons and comics that you love so much. Look into them. Chances are, they won't marry you either, but you may just find yourself appreciating the art form a bit more.
So this week, lets talk about a creator, shall we?
The late Satoshi Kon should be a familiar name to most of you. He's probably best known as the director of PAPRIKA and PERFECT BLUE. If you somehow haven’t seen these movies, drop everything and watch them immediately, then come back here read this article.
Done it yet? Good. So...
If you ask me, Kon did nothing but good work in his short career and it all deserves attention. For this creator spotlight, I’d like to focus on some of his less-appreciated work - - some of which you probably haven’t seen!
Kon’s visual style is confident, realized, solid and distinctive. His designs are realistic, varied and they support the personality of his characters; but they do, at times, border on the bland.
The real magic in Kon’s work comes from the imagery he uses and the way he makes a very believable and realistic world completely unravel. You could describe his work as fitting into the category of “magic realism.” By keeping a somewhat regular and realistic style, it’s more shocking and immersive when the shit hits the fan.
PERFECT BLUE was my introduction to Kon’s work, and it’s full of more powerful images than I can count. This movie establishes the major themes that Kon tends to visit in all of his work: loss of identity, and the blurring between fantasy and reality. As things progress, Mima begins to wonder what she is responsible for and which parts of her life she is actually living. It all leads to a violent and explosive ending that feels classic' like an anime equivalent to Hitchcock.
Fans of Darren Aronofsky's work will recognize the bathtub scene from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, which was recreated exactly from PERFECT BLUE. Aronofsky actually bought the rights to PERFECT BLUE just so he could use this scene. That should give you some idea of the visual power of Kon’s debut.
This movie is also responsible for showing me that anime can be cerebral and engaging in a gripping and mature way. I had seen some intelligent anime, but my otaku youth was spent mostly with shows like the GUYVER, and RANMA. One of the downsides to getting started at a young age is that some of the more forward-thinking stuff may have gone over my head. PERFECT BLUE came to me at exactly the right time and it shocked me, legitimately.
Kon followed PERFECT BLUE with MILLENNIUM ACTRESS; a movie that's criminally under-appreciated (in this country, anyway). The movie snuck over to American shores without me even noticing - - and sadly, many others I’ve talked to haven’t even heard of it!
The story is told via a combination of Chiyoko Fujiwara’s real life experiences and her many roles as one of Japan’s biggest movie stars. First, it's her films which seem to parallel her life, then it's vice-versa, until eventually you can’t ever be 100% sure about which is the real source.
It’s the age-old question of whether art imitates life, or life imitates art, handled in as artful a way as I can imagine. I don’t think it’s going too far to say this could be his best film.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to discuss Kon without mentioning his untimely death. He died at 46 of pancreatic cancer. This came as a pretty big shock to most of us, as Kon had chosen to keep his illness secret for the final year of his life. I was pretty bummed out to hear someone I so respected had died, but on a more selfish level I was disappointed that I’d never get to see another Kon film or series.
Well good news, there is one last piece of work that I actually discovered in my research for this spotlght - - a little one-minute gem done for the NHK (Japans national public broadcasting). Kon was one of 15 directors enlisted to make short pieces basically as filler between programming. This is the last finished animation that he ever made. Unsurprisingly, Kon’s piece is a standout, even among the work of very talented creators.
Take a look (come on, it’s only 60 seconds)...
Amazingly, Kon is able to accomplish just about everything that he does best in one minute - - playing with the line between dreams and waking life, the feeling of disconnect between body and experience, and a slight disorientation for both the characters and viewer. It all falls into place at the very end as her mind catches up with her body and she greets herself in the mirror.
This short takes place entirely between the end of sleep and the beginning of alert wakefulness where the world makes sense. This is, of course, where Kon seems most comfortable and the piece is elegant and confidant. I can think of no better way to send him off.
That said, it really would have been nice if he could have finished the last movie he was working on, wouldn’t it?
I honestly think that any anime fan should be able to enjoy Kon’s work and since there (unfortunately) isn’t a whole lot of it, many of you should be able to enjoy allof his work. He was one of the most talented anime directors of our generation, and tracking down everything he’s been involved with is not only easy, but rewarding as well.
Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - - dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn