Nightstream Film Festival (NFF) – Satoshi Kon is one of the most iconic directors of all cinema history and has been influential to many modern-day directors. One of Japan’s premier auteurs, Kon’s style of animation as well as his tell-it-like-it-is way of living blazed new trails in a society that typically obligated citizens to play the rules. Throwing caution to the wind and embracing his creativity, Kon’s unbridled approach to storytelling and to life allowed him to bestow masterpiece after masterpiece upon audiences around the world.
In celebration of the life and works of Satoshi Kon, director Pascal-Alex Vincent’s documentary, Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist, is gracing the 2021 Nightstream Film Festival lineup with insider stories and commentary from his industry associates, as well as from people who have had the honor of working with such a director. Interviewees include the likes of Masao Maruyama (Co-founder of Madhouse), Junko Iwao (Voice of Mima, Perfect Blue), Rodney Rothman (director of Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse), and many more accomplished colleagues. Between the interviews, Pascal-Alex Vincent steps in as narrator, providing commentary on Kon’s life and career alongside cute cartoon illustrations of the stories being described.
Beginning his career as a young man with initial dreams of becoming a mangaka artist, Kon was heavily influenced by Otomo, the creative artist behind Akira, from whom he learned to create and use powerful imagery to produce powerful stories. His first feature film, Perfect Blue (1997) came out to mixed reviews from the anime and cinema world, and though he lost money on this project, he gained the admiration of directors, many of who would soon pay him homage in their own classic films. Soon, he would cultivate what some refer to as “The Satoshi Kon feel”, his certain directorial and storyteller essence that beautifully depicts internal turmoil and existential crises without his characters having to utter a single word.
If an artist wants psychologically thrilling inspiration, especially for examples of female characters for their work, Satoshi Kon is arguably one of the leaders on these fronts, with his masterpieces Perfect Blue, and later, Paprika (2006) displaying the capability of animation to tell adult stories in a theatrical setting. Though he is known for putting his female characters through the wringer, so to speak, subjecting them to extreme violence and traumatic, life-changing events, Satoshi Kon is said to have based his characters on himself but made the artistic decision to frame his struggles within feminine vessels to deliver the message. Animated films were previously not known to be as good as if not better than live-action movies, but Kon worked beyond the limits of live-action and took his imagery to darkly surreal places, and often in ways that had yet to be seen before.
By using images to play tricks on the mind, Kon was able to craft a distinct style as a director, making himself both an auteur as well as a cinematic illusionist. Anyone who has enjoyed any of his wonderfully dark narratives or the works of directors like Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan who hold Satoshi Kon in regard as their unofficial mentor has a new homework assignment — watch this movie. Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist is a great documentary, in my opinion, as it strikes a great balance between reviewing his work and giving a deeper insight into the director himself.
Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist reviewed as part of our Nightstream Film Festival (NFF) coverage.
7 out of 10