originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/644112...
Hello friends, a good Thursday to all o ye. Tonight I’m going to return to one of our big fave directors - the legendary Satoshi Kon, who we haven’t revisited since the distance foggy days of Animation Night 16.
So, we’re going back to the 90s, to see Kon’s first directed film, Perfect Blue - and then rolling forward a bit to the 2000s to catch Tokyo Godfathers and a bit of Paranoia Agent.
Since I’ve already given the broad strokes of Kon’s (tragically short) career, let’s talk about some of the eras of anime! We’ve seen that the lavish films and OVAs of the 80s reflected both the exuberance and anxiety of an economic boom and rapid capitalist transformation; the 90s saw that boom give way and perhaps it’s not surprising that films like Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion or Takahata’s Pom Poko from this era tend to be more bleak, ambivalent dramas - often set in decaying, washed out environments. Which isn’t to say that like, it’s all cut and dried, Oshii was making Patlabor stuff through the 80s (Kon actually worked on backgrounds in Patlabor 2) in his signature style, but, you know, periodisation’s gotta take a liberty or two!
Anyhoo, Satoshi Kon did a lot to establish this style of filmmaking; Perfect Blue, which tells the story of an idol turned actress who is aggressively stalked by a fan, leading to a severe psychotic episode. Alongside Takahata’s Only Yesterday, this kind of film was something fairly new in the industry: sure it seems obvious today, but it had not yet been established anime could be used for pure psychological drama without any fantastical elements like robots!
After a bit of work on both film and TV anime, working with some really famous guys like Otomo and Oshii, Kon got the chance to direct a film with the *chefs kiss* animators at Madhouse in 1997. He was originally adapting a novel, but was sufficiently dissatisfied with the script that he essentially rewrote everything but the basic premise. As we’ve seen, for Kon, animation and its potential for super-tight frame perfect editing could be used to do things that could not be done in live cinema, and putting everything on cels is maybe the perfect way to play around with the boundaries of what is ‘real’ ;)
Perfect Blue may be Kon’s heaviest film; his later films deal with dreams and with film itself, but here it’s like, straight up trauma induced psychosis. Which means it may be a heavy watch so heads up, you know!
The second film I have is Kon’s second-last film, a much more comedic one called Tokyo Godfathers about three homeless people who find a baby and fall into a cascading series of events, driven by unlikely connections and coincidences.
This one is fraught for a different reason because well, it’s the one which has a trans woman in it! Which means it’s personal lol. As I’m Sure You Know, trans women are portrayed very rarely in animation at all, let alone positively as a central character as opposed to a gag. As ever we have the further complexities of the overlap between trans and drag, well-meaning cis ignorance, cross-cultural differences in how gender is constructed (c.f. otokonoko), etc.; but well that also means, at least for me, it’s a really interesting thing to get my hands on :p
Not to focus overly on one this one aspect! Tokyo Godfathers is a departure from Kon’s other work in a few ways: the character acting relies more on exaggeration and less on stoic subtlety, the film is less about a breakdown of consensus reality and more about a sort of mystical sense of connections and coincidences. As the story unfolds, our central trio set out to track down the mystery chXXXXXas baby’s parents, only to get caught up in a yakuza situation which sends them ricocheting across the city. Kon’s clever editing and Madhouse’s incredible animators are on full display. It’s a WINTER_HOLIDAY movie, so perhaps not as biting as Kon’s other work, but then it’s saying something by choosing the cast it does right? I guess we’ll see!
Of course it wouldn’t be Satoshi Kon animation night if we didn’t put in some Paranoia Agent, and tonight I have a very creative one about an animation studio. Animation about animation always gets me, especially when it gets meta with it, and even if the narrative it presents is more than a little dated (e.g. when it’s like, oh, not many women work in animation, that’s just straight up not true anymore) it’s both a fun narrative of a guy breaking down and a neat look into the animation process at the tail end of the cel era before digital compositing completely took over! There’s a nice article on sakuga blog about such stories, and the episode in particular, here…
I’m looking forward to returning to Godfathers after years and years, and catching Perfect Blue at last. Last time we checked his stuff, Kon surprised me (Millenium Actress was incredible, Paprika didn’t hold up quite as well as I remembered) and I’m sure he will again tonight… just hopefully in a good way!
In any case, Animation Night 42 will begin at 7pm UK time (just under 2 hours) at twitch.tv/canmom. Hope to see you there!