Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Fantasia ’21: Satoshi Kon, the Illusionist

Satoshi Kon is such a significant anime filmmaker, his tragic death created a conundrum. Is there a filmmaker who has the stature required to follow in Kon’s place and finish his last, unfinished film, who would also completely minimize their creative inputs, to maintain Kon as the sole auteurist hand guiding it? Of course, fans sure would like to see his producers figure something out, since Kon only released four full-length features and one thirteen-episode series during his lifetime. Pascal-Alex Vincent surveys the work and themes of the anime legend in Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist, which screens as an on-demand selection of the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Four films and change might not seem like a lot, but his first three films recently had full theatrical re-releases and his fourth,
Paprika, is largely seen as the “inspiration” for Inception. According to Darren Aronofsky, he asked and received the master’s go-ahead to include a significant “homage” to Kon’s Perfect Blue in Requiem for a Dream. He was instrumental to the rise of anime’s popularity in the West, along with Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli), Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), and Katasuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Yet, his popularity cut across genres and fandoms.

Taking its title from Andrew Osmond’s nonfiction study,
The Illusionist follows a conventional documentary approach, mainly just incorporating talking head interviews and film clips. However, Kon’s visuals have lost none of their pop. Most tantalizing are the excerpts from the unfinished The Dreaming Machine. Ostensibly, it would have been his first children’s film, but still sounds like it would have featured similarly existential science fiction themes. Had he completed it, Machine might have been compared to Wall-E in the way Inception and Paprika are often likened.

Throughout the film, Vincent prompts commentary from an impressive battery of admirers, including Aronofsky, Oshii, Mamoru Hosada (
Mirai), Jeremy Clapin (I Lost My Body), and Rodney Rothman (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). You can see his influence, especially in the latter-most case.

Solidly sourced and respectful,
The Illusionist is mostly for Kon admirers, but that should include just about any casual anime fan. Recommended accordingly, Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist screens as an on-demand selection of this year’s Fantasia.