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4 Great Anime Films by Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon, an acclaimed animator, director, writer, and manga artist created the most surreal and cerebral anime in the industry, and his films remain some of the best animated works to date. Born in Sapporo, Hokkaido in 1963, Kon drew early inspiration from anime like Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Battleship Yamato. In high school he developed a longing to work as an animator. He studied graphic design at Musashino Art University and employed the skills and experiences he gained towards numerous projects. 

He wrote Manga, like Tropic of the Sea, Seraphim 266613336 Wings, and Opus, and he worked on films and shows like Patlabor 2 and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure as well as writing for the short film Magnetic Rose in the Memories anthology film. All these experiences led to his directorial debut Perfect Blue, followed by Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika

Each of Kon’s films in some way deal with subversion of reality and the mixing of the real and the fantastical in glorious chaos and harmony. Kon’s films make people question what reality is and where the border line ends. All his films deserve a viewing, but I’m going to discuss and rank them from least to most superb starting with: 

Paprika

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Doctor Atsuko Chiba uses a machine called a DC-mini to enter the minds of psychiatric patients' dreams in the form of her dream alter ego Paprika. The prototype DC-minis still lack proper safety protocols, and soon it becomes apparent that someone is hacking into people's dreams for some sinister purpose. With the assistance of a Detective Konakawa, Chiba/Paprika try to track down the culprit, while a crazed parade of whimsical beings begins to seep their way in from the dream world to reality.

Perfect Blue

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Based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Perfect Blue depicts the life of a former popstar, Mima, as she transitions to work as an actress. As an idol star, Mima gained a reputation as a clean and pure lady which contrasts with her first minor TV role that places her in some scandalous situations. Her fans freak out and one who calls himself Me-mania even starts stalking her. 

Image by Filmviewed on Youtube.

Mima gets a fax calling her a traitor, a letter bomb explodes injuring her agent, and a rape scene for her TV show all drive Mima further and further into paranoia. In Mima’s resulting psychosis, she struggles to gain a grip on reality just as people around her start dying. Are the murders all in her head or is she really the culprit? That’s one of the many questions posed in this film about a star's slip into madness. 

Tokyo Godfathers

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This comedy centers around three homeless people living in Tokyo on Christmas Eve. There’s the runaway Miyuki, an alcoholic Gin, and an ex-drag queen named Hana. While rummaging through the garbage looking for Christmas presents, the group hears crying and finds a baby, who Hana names Kiyoko. The trio don’t know what to do at first, but Hana persuades, or rather drags them, into going out to find baby Kiyoko’s mother.

Image by GKIDS Films on Youtube.

On their journey they have many chance encounters with people from different groups and classes and they come to confront the issues in their life that led to their homelessness. This is a film about the family we’re born with, the family we make, and the things we do for, and sometimes to, our families and the consequences of our choices. As Miyuki, Gin, and Hana overcome the obstacles preventing them from returning baby Kiyoko to her mother, they must confront and overcome their own personal demons on the streets of Tokyo on a cold snowy Christmas Eve night. Who knows, there may even be a bona fide miracle.

Millennium Actress

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Every time I watch this film I cry. At two different scenes. I can count every time I’ve seen this film and remember the exact dates. Said simply, this film embodies the chase, the pursuit for something, someone, or the dream we desire to actualize or attain in our lives.

The opening scene takes place in outer space. The heroine of the film is a retired starlet actress from Japanese Cinema’s golden age named Chiyoko. She begins preparations for takeoff in her spaceship to pursue the man of her dreams, despite the pleading of her fellow officer to stay. As she readies for launch, the world starts to shake and we find that we’re watching Genya, a TV interviewer and lifelong hardcore Chiyoko fan, watching a scene from one of her movies.

He’s preparing to do an interview with her about her career, work at the now bankrupt Ginei studios, and her life. He brings along a cameraman named Kyoji who does not share Genya’s obsession with Chiyoko, he’s a bit blasé and apathetic about this interview with a reclusive ex-movie star who hid herself away from the outside decades ago; however, Genya is unperturbed, determined to meet with her and deliver the Key, the Key to the most important thing there is. 

Image by HOTA, Home of the Arts on Youtube.

When she holds that key, the key she had once worn everyday of her life, her story, interweaving real moments from her real early life, the war, and all her films come streaming out. Viewers must ask ourselves what true longing and pursuit really mean, how we embellish the truth about what we want and why, and whether we really want what we want or the chasing after. 

Millennium Actress tied with Spirited Away for the grand prize at the Japan Agency of Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival, features a great original score by Susumu Hirasawa, homages to classic Japanese cinema, and touches even the most jaded person who lost sight of that which drove them onward.

After Paprika, Kon began work on his next film, but in 2010 he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and he died later that same year. He was an inspiration to many other animators and directors in and outside of Japan. Some attribute films like “Black Swan” and “Inception” to his films, and a true contender for one of the best creators in Anime like Hayao Miyazaki. His last proposed film, Dreaming Machine, may be only that, a dream, but Kon’s passionate explorations into human nature, reality and illusion, and desire via film will continue to live on in the hearts of fans and creators alike. 

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