Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist: NIGHTSTREAM ’21 Review

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist film poster

Satoshi Kon was a talented, outspoken manga artist, director, and animator with a unique style that merged that stood out then and now in anime. His creations didn’t feel like anime, but real-life hardships conveyed through an animated medium. Although he passed in 2010, Satoshi Kon’s impact on anime—indeed filmmakers and artists—reverberates in the industry. Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist, playing at Nightstream’s virtual festival, written and directed by Pascal-Alex Vincent, looks at Satoshi Kon’s creations and impact on the industry and the challenges he faced. The documentary explores a man that, like his creations, was complex but loved the entirety of humanity. 

Perfect Blue Put Satoshi On The Map

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist still of Darren Aronofsky
Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist still of Darren Aronofsky. Courtesy of Nightstream

The first work I saw from Satoshi Kon was his first feature, Perfect Blue, and I loved it. The way it shows the hazards of being an idol as pop singer Mima starts mentally unraveling after retiring from singing to pursue acting with an obsessive fan stalking her through the film. Critic’s reception of his films, like Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress, was positive. Yet, many of his movies struggled to gain mainstream audience popularity. Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist interviews people who’ve worked with, met, and been inspired by Satoshi Kon. The consensus was genius and a mean side when disappointed or pushed to do something he had no interest in doing. 

What makes the film industry fascinating is the cycle of inspiration. Satoshi Kon drew inspiration from Japanese cinema, which came out in Millenium Actress, and from films such as 1972’s Slaughterhouse-Five. But Satoshi Kon took that and crafted a visual story that explored isolation, the frail line between reality and fiction, paranoia, and in turn, inspired filmmakers and animators as evidenced by the interviews in Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist. Director of Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky, even pays homage to Perfect Blue with his bathtub scene in his film. It’s heartwarming to see that, despite Satoshi Kon dying over a decade, he continues to inspire. 

An Honest Glimpse At A Complex Man

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist still of kid holding a skateboard over his face with the anime Paranoia Agent on it.
Courtesy of Nightstream

Despite the financial struggle to get funding for his projects, Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist shows Kon’s advocacy for change in the industry; fighting to pay his animators well. So, despite some describing him as a “nasty guy,” there was genuine affection for humanity. When the documentary moved to Paranoia Agent, I was ecstatic. Paranoia Agent was the second Satoshi Kon work I saw.  The creepy trailer cemented my interest; it had characters I’d never seen depicted in animation and, again, merged reality with fiction. My favorite episode is between “Golden Shoes” and “Happy Family Planning.” They are both brilliant though “Happy Family Planning” is the MVP. Paranoia Agent reminded me of the 1998 series Serial Experiments Lain

Fans of Satoshi Kon’s work will feel nostalgia as the documentary shows clips and music from his creations and interviews. I almost screamed when I heard the music intro from Paranoia Agent and Tokyo Godfathers, and I did hum along. Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist celebrates a marvelous creator, gone too soon, by showing us his humanity in all its messy splendor. Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is for fans of documentaries, of Satoshi Kon, and anime. Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist ushers in a new generation to the surreal splendor, Satoshi Kon presented in his works.

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