I wasn’t as busy as I normally have been this time of the year, so I watched/rewatched Satoshi Kon’s primary works this week. It seemed appropriate. But do keep in mind, I’ll be delving into spoiler territory.
For those unaware, he was a renowned Japanese animation director who passed away on August 24th, 2010. He was only 46. Shortly before doing so however, he was able to write up a very personal document reflecting on his life that his family released after his death. An English language translation of this piece is available here, and are among the final thoughts of a very creative mind that knows it has rapidly diminishing time left on this Earth with plenty of work it still planned to do and peoples lives they had longed to be see more days with. I recommend reading those words of his far before my own thoughts
In the event anyone from 1998 was wondering, this is not a film to watch while drinking a caffeinated beverage (I did, as I’m kind of an idiot sometimes). I’m already familiar with where it goes and what it does, and I still felt like my heart was going to suffer a tension explosion.
I remember it having some pretty brutal western reviews back on release (and it still only pulls a 65 over on Rotten Tomatoes). Even for ones who liked it there was a large amount of critic confusion over why this couldn’t have just been live action. And I think that speaks very much to why I think it works so effectively as an animation.
With so much of the narrative and the atmosphere it creates hinging on perspective and the lens one is viewing through to create and give identity, providing an animation camera gives its own unique window into its world. It’s a further additional lens level as we see Mima traverse the nature of her situation. I’m of the disposition that there’s a high amount of value in that. It takes so many of the lessons Hitchcock’s works gave the film industry and then surgically applies them to painted cels.
If Perfect Blue was our dark exploration of perspective and narrative lenses, then this is the vibrantly joyous means of looking into the fantasies and the lust for life they can provide us (even if the story itself is sad at times).
I’ve seen it get a fair amount of flack for Chiyoko not being a strong main character, and I think that does a bit of disservice to Genya and his story. He has so much raw zeal in his heart regarding how he’s viewed Chiyoko and her films over the years. He has all of these fantasies and dreams wrapped up around this, and all the wonderful explorations of seeing the documentary crew inside the worlds of Chiyoko’s works are completely driven by that passion.
He’s trying to capture her story, while at the same time so desperately wanting to capture his own as it related to how he viewed her. And she can be that person while at the same time having, to us outsiders, a pretty straightforward little tale (hence Kyoji’s entire script and deadpan remarks). Which I think is very much part of the point.
Chiyoko never met her love again, and that individual built up a near mythic quality in the chase.
Genya got to meet his, and with the chase concluded and her mythic quality more subsided, she was gone
And there was much welling of tears.
So, uh, this is embarrassing; I’ve owned the DVD for almost a decade, but I had never actually placed my copy in a player (and it’s not the only anime in my collection with such status).
While this is easily the most straightforward of Kon’s films, I feel this was also freeing for it in many respects. I believe the raw character animation here may be the finest among them, for instance; viewing all of these so close to each other, there’s a noticeable uptick in subtly of movement. A lot of that is also likely helped by using the homeless as our leads, as they just flat out have more stuff on their persons to move than Kon’s other main characters. There’s so much one can do with scarves and jackets and crumples and weight and wrinkles and flow that they almost make the attire characters unto themselves.
As the film is thematically concerned with coincidences, miracles, and “I can’t actually be a hero like in the movies,” as a part of Kon’s larger fascination with metafictional narratives, I can’t fault it much for where the story goes. It does everything it needs to do for what it wants to do. If I was ranking them, it’s likely my “least favorite” Kon movie, but it’s still a really nice time I’d thoroughly recommend to folks, especially around Christmas.
Paranoia Agent (Mousou Dairinin)
I definitely appreciated how this show slowly drip fed new characters for its duration, and was able to tie most of them back into each others own stories. Since most of the episodes are pretty much akin to short character studies, this was a swell means of providing an overall linking element between them as it played its little shell game.
Generally speaking I was able to enjoy an episode or two at a stretch, and then do something else feeling I had a satisfying amount of content, like a nice part of a meal. I wouldn’t want to marathon it, certainly.
That said, the series really felt like it shifted gears into cruise control for the middle episodes though, as there was definitely a larger sense of pressure and pace bookending the show at the start and finish. They weren’t bad, but they were fundamentally comparable to the nice basket of variety breads that comes with a meal; they can be used to soak up and apply additional flavors to the experience, but you’re also consuming them as you’re waiting for something else more core to the experience to arrive.
Best wishes to the folks who are working on the live action adaptation; converting this material is going to provide quite a few nifty days of work for the design team. But I suppose that, in its own right, is the sort of thing imaginations and dreams are made of.
In practicality, it’s very much akin to a fun rollercoaster ride. It takes corners and dips and climbs, as it consistently tosses new (and some repeated) material at you. It has the air of threatening tension at you, right up to the edge, while you’re still very much safe and secure. It might want you to yell, but the enjoyable rush kind rather than one of abject terror. It’s very much on rails, and is straightforward to look at its course from a distance than how it may feel when you’re actually riding.
Also, as I hadn’t seen Paprika since Kon’s passing, that last scene with Konakawa ordering a movie ticket was absolutely heartbreaking. That the theatre is playing all of Kon’s movies would have been enough, but the fact that “Dreaming Kids” is essentially a stand-in for the still unfinished Dreaming Machine….
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.