For two weeks between March 26 and April 10, four of Satoshi Kon’s most acclaimed films will be available to stream, for free, online. The Japan Information & Culture Centre (JICC), Embassy of Japan, and the National Museum of Asian Art are presenting a retrospective event in honour of the influential director/animator. Also available will be a 2021 documentary, The Illusionist, by the French director, Pascal-Alex Vincent.
Even if you don’t know who Satoshi Kon is, you have probably watched a film inspired by his work. The late animation writer/director is especially well known for four films; Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika. In particular, Paprika was cited as an inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Darren Aronofsky included an homage to Kon in Requiem for a Dream. Other films that filmmakers have described as inspired by Kon include Into the Spiderverse, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Black Swan.
Kon’s work often deals with the way that extreme situations blur the lines between fantasy and reality. He often combines science fiction tropes in mind-bending ways that are beautifully expressed through his animation.
Don’t be fooled by the style of some of these films; Kon strove to push animtion to deal with adult situations, and his work is intended for adult audiences. In the thriller, Perfect Blue, a former idol is transitioning to acting, and becomes psychologically tortured by a murderer who stalks her. Millennium Actress explores the life of an actress through the lens of the two different documentary filmmakers, who try to sort out what’s real and what only existed on film — as well as providing a sweeping homage to Japanese film as a whole, riffing on samurai flicks, Godzilla classics, and historical dramas like Hiroshima or Mon Amor). In the science-fantasy Paprika, a detective is tasked with finding the man who stole a device that allows him to enter shared dreams, turning them into nightmares. The exception to his usual psychological explorations within fantasy is Tokyo Godfathers, which in stark contrast to his other films, is about three homeless men who find a baby and attempt to reunite the child with its mother.
All Kon’s films are phenomenally realised, drawn and voiced by stars in the anime world in the mid 2000s, when all these were produced. Kon was a remarkable talent, who died in his forties after a battle with cancer. This retrospective is an incredible chance for anime fans to watch a legend at the peak of his career and to invite your friends to watch a master at work.