How Master Japanese Animator Satoshi Kon Pushed the Boundaries of Making Anime: A Video Essay

To casu­al view­ers, most Japan­ese ani­ma­tion (at least apart from the ele­gant work of Hayao Miyaza­ki and his col­lab­o­ra­tors at Stu­dio Ghi­b­li) can look like a pret­ty unso­phis­ti­cat­ed and even dis­rep­utable affair, char­ac­ter­ized by crude flashi­ness, con­vo­lut­ed sto­ry­lines, and bizarre, sopho­moric humor. All those things do, of course, exist in the realm of ani­me, but only because every­thing does: if Japan’s ver­sion of ani­ma­tion often ris­es above those of oth­er cul­tures, it does so as a result of that cul­ture regard­ing ani­ma­tion as sim­ply cin­e­ma by oth­er means. And any cin­e­mat­ic form will inevitably pro­duce diverse vir­tu­os­i­ty: to see how a mas­ter Japan­ese ani­ma­tor can have a sen­si­bil­i­ty com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from that of Miyaza­ki, look no fur­ther than Satoshi Kon.

“Even if you don’t know his work, you have cer­tain­ly seen some of these images,” says Every Frame a Paint­ing’s Tony Zhou in the series’ video essay on Kon’s work, which includes the inter­na­tion­al­ly acclaimed films Per­fect BlueTokyo God­fa­thers, and Papri­ka.

“He is an acknowl­edged influ­ence on both Dar­ren Aronof­sky and Christo­pher Nolan, and he has a fan base that includes just about every­one who loves ani­ma­tion.” The essay shows us how those two West­ern live-action auteurs, among Kon’s oth­er fans, have bor­rowed his images for their own sto­ries, just as Kon, in turn, drew a great deal of inspi­ra­tion from a sim­i­lar­ly unlike­ly source: George Roy Hill’s 1972 cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion of Kurt Von­negut’s nov­el Slaugh­ter­house-Five.

More specif­i­cal­ly, Kon drew inspi­ra­tion from the film’s inven­tive and sur­pris­ing cuts from one scene to anoth­er, a for­mal reflec­tion of its chronol­o­gy-and-geog­ra­phy-jump­ing pro­tag­o­nist’s state of being “unstuck in time.” Through­out his decade-long fea­ture film­mak­ing career, Kon “was con­stant­ly show­ing one image and then reveal­ing that it was­n’t what you thought it was.” Kon died in 2010, hav­ing “pushed ani­ma­tion in ways that aren’t real­ly pos­si­ble in live action, not just elas­tic images but elas­tic edit­ing, a unique way of mov­ing from image to image, scene to scene.” His accom­plish­ments live on not just in his own work, but in all the ways the cre­ators who admire it con­tin­ue to adapt his inno­va­tions for their own, even in the tra­di­tion­al­ly “respectable” forms of cin­e­ma.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of Hand-Drawn Japan­ese Ani­me: A Deep Study of How Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra Uses Light

The Phi­los­o­phy, Sto­ry­telling & Visu­al Cre­ativ­i­ty of Ghost in the Shell, the Acclaimed Ani­me Film, Explained in Video Essays

The Exis­ten­tial Phi­los­o­phy of Cow­boy Bebop, the Cult Japan­ese Ani­me Series, Explored in a Thought­ful Video Essay

How the Films of Hayao Miyaza­ki Work Their Ani­mat­ed Mag­ic, Explained in 4 Video Essays

The Ori­gins of Ani­me: Watch Free Online 64 Ani­ma­tions That Launched the Japan­ese Ani­me Tra­di­tion

A Salute to Every Frame a Paint­ing: Watch All 28 Episodes of the Fine­ly-Craft­ed (and Now Con­clud­ed) Video Essay Series on Cin­e­ma

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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