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Anime Fans Should Respect Creators! - - Satoshi Kon - - OTAKU COMING HOME

Alex digs into Satoshi Kon's tragically short catalogue of great work, and discovers something new!

Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...

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?

Sorry, there's no way in hell.
Sorry, there's no way in hell.

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!

Brace yourself for some beautiful tripped-out stuff. I'm getting vertigo just looking at that image on the left.
Brace yourself for some beautiful tripped-out stuff. I'm getting vertigo just looking at that image on the left.

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.

Yup, things get real weird. That dog is like a horrifying Mona Lisa - - its eyes follow me, no matter where I go.
Yup, things get real weird. That dog is like a horrifying Mona Lisa - - its eyes follow me, no matter where I go.

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 scene is so tense and claustrophobic. It's easy to see why Aronofsky went to so much trouble to get it.
This scene is so tense and claustrophobic. It's easy to see why Aronofsky went to so much trouble to get it.

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!

While far less explosive and visceral than PERFECT BLUE, MILLENNIUM ACTRESS is a perfect successor in terms of Kon's overall thematic interestes.

Love the gesture in these two shots. Even as still images, there's tons of implied motion.
Love the gesture in these two shots. Even as still images, there's tons of implied motion.

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.

Check out all those awesome black shapes and the way those telephone poles recede into the background.
Check out all those awesome black shapes and the way those telephone poles recede into the background.

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?

Whats not to like? Golden bats and golden robots terrorize japan and i can't get enough.
Whats not to like? Golden bats and golden robots terrorize japan and i can't get enough.

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.

Feel free to discuss all the similarities between PAPRIKA and INCEPTION or explain to me why cartoon characters make better significant others in the comments section below.

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

RoninAutomatonon Jan. 15, 2013 at 5:21 p.m.

I love me some Satoshi Kon!!

Marshal Victoryon Jan. 15, 2013 at 5:45 p.m.

Cool more stuff to check out.I think its easy for people to like characters more than the creators.As a genral thing.Influance seems to be murky waters so every one can put thier own fingerprints on a project.Mostly to the detrement of the project tho.

Its not just visual tho .Not just animation or movies or even comics its done.Music seems as bad or worse.But anime seems to have less stand outs but plenty of out standing creators. Masamune Shirow , Monkey Punch , an Shinichiro Watanabe are a few of my favs.But even after watching anime for a year or so i had to dig to find out more .

To those of us from the comic book crowd this seems odd because a creators name sales work just as much as the content in most cases.

AlexEL staff on Jan. 16, 2013 at 8:42 a.m.

@Marshal Victory: I know what you mean about having to dig to find out about more creators. I'm sure that has something to do with it, but i think if you really like a show or manga you should be interested in who made it, even if that means doing a bit of work. I'm glad to hear you're interested in the people that make this stuff!

But since it's not always super easy to find this stuff out i aim to help out with more of these creator spotlights! Satoshi Kon is an obvious one but i'm hoping to shed some light on a few more obscure guys in the future.

thats what i like to hear!! i think you'd have to be dead to not enjoy his movies on some level.

Marshal Victoryon Jan. 16, 2013 at 10:04 a.m.

@AlexEL: Well actualy this site made it bit easyer to find out who makes what.An articles like this help me find new ( to me at the very least) anime .Part of the problem their is it seems the product is more important than its creators in anime. Where as i notice in manga news what creator is makeing what now is biger news.

AURON570on Jan. 16, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.

Perfect Blue is a masterpiece! Highly recommended! The rape scene will haunt me forever!

AlexEL staff on Jan. 16, 2013 at 12:54 p.m.

@AURON570: the roughest thing about that scene is that she has to act it out twice. brutal.

Kino88on Jan. 16, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.

Kon was the only film maker I can compare to the like's of Hitchcock,

Paranoia Agent was amazing and I loved Tokyo Godfathers and I came across Perfect Blue just as you did, I still have to get around to watching Paprika and Millennium Actress, lucky me then, there are more of his wonders left to enjoy'

Aleashaon Jan. 17, 2013 at 7:38 a.m.

While I haven't seen these they are on now on my to watch list for sure. Before I started doing the wiki I knew nothing about the creators all I knew is what I liked visually and because of that ended up watching a lot done by the same people. Now doing wiki I am seeing the creator names and starting to recognize their work which makes me look for more of their work I still know very little in my estimation but I am working to change that. =) Thanks for this and I look forward to more in the future.

NickyCharismaon Jan. 17, 2013 at 8:46 a.m.
Polite correction: Mr. Aronofsky originally bought the remake rights to "Perfect Blue" so that he could direct a full remake. When the project fell apart he used elements of it in "Requiem for a Dream" and "Black Swan." Source is "The Greatest Movies Never Made."
AlexEL staff on Jan. 17, 2013 at 9:53 a.m.

@NickyCharisma: whoa, thats pretty interesting! thanks for the correction. I'm actually glad things worked out the way they did though. I think perfect blue is perfect as it is and American live action anime remakes don't usually turn out well. even helmed by a talent like Aronofsky, i'd be worried about the outcome.

so glad you're actively researching and learning about this stuff! you're one of the good ones.

You've got some of his best stuff left to watch! I'm sure you're gonna love'em.

Aleashaon Jan. 17, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.

@AlexEL: Thanks! =)

sickVisionz moderator on Jan. 17, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.
I disagree with the blanket statement that fans so recognize creators. Maybe ultra casual fans don't but the same could be said about ultra casual fans of any medium. For Kon, I love the hell out of Perfect Blue. I thought Paprika was just ok though and Paranoia Agent starts off so promising but descends into artsy fartsy philosobaabble stuff when I was expecting police procedural, murder mystery, detective story. I always like how his works start but out of the ones I've seen, PB is the only one that doesn't go conceptually crazy.
AlexEL staff on Jan. 17, 2013 at 9:58 p.m.

@sickVisionz: check out millennium actress! it stays firmly on the rails.

Dig Deeper into Satoshi Kon

Director of many prominent movies including Paprika, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers, as well as the anime series Paranoia Agent.

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