In the fall of my Freshman year of college (where I really started developing my love for anime, all things considered), I found out that my college anime club always had some sort of special anime to show during the time of Halloween. Obviously the work had to have some sort of relation to the themes of the holiday, and usually the tone of whatever is shown is related to horrors and thrillers of some sort, and not being a fan of those genres (heh), I was a little apprehensive about what was planned. For that year, the special work was a movie called Perfect Blue, about an idol who decides to make a career change to become more of a mainstream figure in entertainment. The film introduced me to the idea of idol culture in Japan, the perceptions and expectations that go with it from those that are fans of the culture, and what happens when those perceptions and expectations are not met or worse, completely dashed. While the story itself was probably more exaggerated in terms of what happened to young Mima, recent stories about the troubles of Aya Hirano among others shows how serious those hopes can be, but I’m digressing here.
What got me about the movie was the presentation about the blurring of reality and fiction, which is a main point of the movie. By the end, I was totally blown away by how well things were executed. I kept wondering about what was really real, and what was just an illusion, and really felt the tension as the thriller kept the feeling of suspense up to a pleasing conclusion in my eyes. While I’m sure others I walked back to my dorm were weren’t as enthusiastic about it as I was, it was the first time I think that an anime had kept me thinking about it long after I had finished watching it. If I wanted to joke, it might have jump started my thirst for getting more into the bones of anime then I probably needed to. Regardless of the impact it was my introduction to the works of Satoshi Kon, and it was a good one.
While I don’t talk about Kon as much as other directors, he was definitely one of my favorites, and his works were always entertaining to watch. I’ve seen all of his major works (which is kind of surprisingly small, when I think about it), and I’ve commented on some of them, as they are some of the more interesting works that anime has to offer, in my opinion. A lot of his works focused on the nature of dreams, imagination, and the boundary between fantasy and reality, since that was what he was interested in conveying with the works he directed (even the last film that he was working on focused on this idea) and I feel like he always went all out to do so in his adaptations and original works. From the disorienting and frightening loss of identity in Perfect Blue, to the willing spread of rumors to the point where they become real in Paranoia Agent, to the masterful switches between dreams and “real life” in Millenium Actress and Paprika, those main “tenets” of Kon’s directorial philosophy (as I see it. :P) were always presented in an interesting way. The imagery (bizarre at times, breathtaking at others), interesting and realistic character designs, and often interesting music (Susumu Hirasawa helped with a lot of those works) added to that in a good way
Even more importantly, I felt like the Kon’s projects took a stark look at our own lives, in terms of how we live them, and managed to do so in a way that manages to touch us almost every time. That didn’t mean that I didn’t get confused a lot, or disturbed by what I saw, since that was the case sometimes. But I felt like that was part of the point in his works as well, since it felt like sometimes, there was a challenge to keep looking at something that’s more real and in our face than we’d like to admit, from obsessions (about love, material possessions, lust, fear, moe, etc.), to our seemingly ordinary livelihoods. At the same time, he also highlighted that life can be positive and wonderful as well depending on how one makes the most of it (why Tokyo Godfathers was an awesome movie to me). And while I feel like while those types of works don’t necessarily follow the trends in terms of what people want to see (which might be why some people avoid him or make fun of people who do like his works), they are also good examples in works that are necessary in demonstrating some of the power in storytelling and connecting with the viewer that anime can have. I’d like to say that his movies are ones that people need to see, but each person has their tastes. I at least want to encourage people to check them out, even if they aren’t the usual things people see, since I believe they are some of the best works that anime can offer (yes, a bold statement).
I feel like it’s a big loss for Madhouse and for the anime industry as a whole with Satoshi Kon’s death. But I hope it’s a way for more people to check out his works and continue thinking about them as I have. Not too many people in anime could make consistently thought-provoking stuff or go places that others don’t usually touch like he could, and I will miss him and appreciate him for making me begin really (probably unnecessarily) thinking about anime most of all. Rest in peace.