Obsession, dedication, and sacrifice are glorified in every aspect of achieving success in the creative industries. Perhaps this is symbolic to the growing mainstream success of films that reminds us of the consequences career-related self destruction. Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film Black Swan showcases a dancer’s descent into insanity in pursuit for the feature role in New York’s most prestigious ballet company. Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film Whiplash showcases a young jazz drummer casting away from society and self-harming to cope with the pressure of impressing his abusive jazz instructor. Widely consider a major pioneer of this psychological thriller genre, critics and directors advocate the works of Satoshi Kon: a Japanese animator and director whose writing, editing and narrative styles typically involve a labyrinth of diverging realities- finally succumbing to a single, final, revelation.
Satoshi Kon’s 1997 film Perfect Blue highlights Mima Kirigoe, a pop icon retiring music to pursue a career in acting. Tampering with a manufactured young, innocent, and naive public image, Mima becomes victim to obsessive and violent stalking from a deranged fan looking to preserve her pop-star caricature. Seeking estrangement from this previous identity, Mima agrees to increasingly morbid roles in thriller films: such as victims of violent crimes, to gruesome depictions of rape and sexual assault. Using violence and paranoia, the deranged stalker disorients Mima between her true identity, and the innocent pop-star identity she left behind. Bleeding into her professional life, Mima can no longer distinguish whether the violent crimes she's experiencing are reality, or a role in a film; unable to divide between realities, her acting receives extraordinary praise.
Despite routinely experimental structures, Kon’s works reached significant mainstream success across international audiences- and has established considerable influence on Western live-action cinema. A direct influence to Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception, Kon’s 2006 film Paprika timelines a manhunt for a stolen psychiatric device which allows doctors to enter the dream world of patients. Going so far to commission partial copyright permissions for Kon’s films, Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Nolan’s Inception incorporates and appropriates select scenes from Perfect Blue and Paprika respectively. Part of this Western success is conceivably from the flat, yet realistic illustrations of modern life in Japan; a bold aesthetic departure from Kon’s highly stylized, and ‘anime caricature’ contemporaries. Kon’s influential reach in live action cinema across the globe only solidifies his film’s foundations in reality; undeterred by their fantastical and sci-fi characteristics.
This exhibition looks to unveil more of Satoshi Kon’s career from multiple perspectives. Article studies and summaries of films geared for newcomers, podcast transcripts for the noviced, and even video essays and books for those already acquainted.
Written by Delfin-Joseph Vaquilar
Do a search in your public library for 'Satoshi Kon'; Kon's films are quite famous in Western countries so it isn't too hard to find. If you're in Toronto, most of Kon's films can be borrowed for free at the Japan Foundation Library. Also try: University libraries. Of course if all else fails you can always just find an online stream / download them.
An immensely easy to follow overview of Satoshi Kon’s work. After a brief introduction, this article runs through his films in chronological order, giving a plot synopsis, discusses the thematic content, and even references any outstanding techniques used in the films. No spoilers!
In this video essay, William Moo goes through many stylistic and visual themes in Kon's Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress. Referencing film theory along montages and clips- Moo showcases the exstensive real world contexts of the films material (allusions to war), and the films technique.
In this article, Grady Hendrix contextualizes Kon's films against many Americans assumptions of anime: an obsession with over-stylized school girls and robots running rampant. This pieces runs through four of Kon's films, alluding to their deliberate escape from typically fictitious anime realities. Hendrix finally comments on how Kon uses an authentic rendering of Japanese life, as Kon's way to confront his audience with the very reality they are trying to escape through anime.
An depth study breaking down Kon’s unique editing style that seamlessly distorts time and space to represent the loss of sanity. Every Frame A Painting (EFAR) has quickly become one of Youtube’s most prolific movie afficianadoes. Straying away from ‘reviews’, EFAR typically releases well thought out, seemingly high production case studies and videos essays.
This is from a podcast dated in 2008. The three figures have a loosely strewn conversation on themes that tie Satoshi Kon films together. Another interesting portion of this conversation, is the comparison between Kon, against two other Western mainstream anime directors: Hayao Miyazaki, and Mamoru Oshii. They try to find similatiries and differences between styles that have allowed this trio to dominate the Western market.