My pimpage this week involves movies. I’ll probably get desperate enough some week to do a post specifically pimping out individual movies, but for now I’m just going to pimp a specific director named Satoshi Kon. He’s a Japanese director who has directed four anime movies, one anime series, and one anime short to date, and is currently in the process of directing another, called The Dream Machine. He’s been involved in more than that, but I’m sticking to what he’s directed because I haven’t seen all his other stuff. What follows is his works listed from what I perceive as best to least good (he hasn’t done anything I would consider bad ever).
Something else I find necessary to mention: he specializes in mind fucks. I mean all-out, total confusion, glued to the screen because you know something’s gotta happen within the next ten minutes to explain it all and it’s so freaky but dear god you can’t stop watching type mind fucks. Well, actually, only one of his movies is that bad, but they all, as Wiki says, “blend dreams and reality”, and sometimes the results are kinda freaky. Some of them involve pretty graphic scenes of bad subjects; I’ll put individual warnings on each movie, but this is just a general headsup.
Perfect Blue is that movie I described just previously. It barely comes out ahead from Paranoia Agent, mostly because it manages the mindfucking so well, and it’s self-contained within a movie form, so y’all will have an easier time watching it.
For the description, I’m copy-pasting from Amazon because I’m not entirely sure how to best describe this movie: “Perfect Blue is an adult psycho-thriller that uses the freedom of the animated image to create the subjective reality of a young actress haunted by the ghost of her past identity. Mima is a singer who leaves her teeny-bop trio to become an actress in a violent television series, a career move that angers her fans, who prefer to see her as the pert, squeaky-clean pop idol. Plagued by self-doubt and tormented by humiliating compromises, she begins to be stalked, in her waking and sleeping moments, by an accusing alter ego who claims to be "the real Mima," until she collapses into madness as her coworkers are brutally slain around her.”
It’s based on a book (as many of Satoshi Kon’s movies are), and it really does its job well. It builds the mood perfectly, keeping you glued to the edge of your seat. It’s also puzzling and confusing in a good way, and while the ending is a little pat, it also matches well for the rest of the excellently done story.
Warnings: The movie is freaky, so if easily scared, watch with someone else. There’s a rape scene that’s...pretty explicit about everything but tab a going into slot b. There’s also violence, and the biggie is that the movie pretty much does follow this girl going crazy, and in a breaking down, can’t control anything anymore sort of way.
Paranoia Agent is a thirteen episode anime series that, like I said above, just barely is pushed to second place. I really enjoyed watching this anime; it was a lot of fun, it followed a good number of characters (it actually seems like they’re disconnected at first, but that changes fast) many of whom you sympathize with, and the mystery/plot hooks you so quickly. There is something childlike almost about this series, despite its serious and really not-child-appropriate content, but that really just reflects perfectly on the tone it sets.
Again, Amazon saves the day: “A baseball bat-wielding adolescent randomly attacks five people in Tokyo, each of whom is grappling with a serious problem. Toy designer Tsukiko endures tremendous pressure to repeat her previous success; bottom-feeding journalist Kawazu desperately needs money. Popular sixth grader Yuuichi feels threatened by the new kid in his class, the dumpy nerd Usshi. Yuuichi's tutor Harumi is a compassionate scholar by day; at night, she becomes Maria, a sleazy hooker. The seemingly purposeless violence of Lil' Slugger (originally Shounen Bat, literally "Bat Boy"), also disrupts the lives of police detectives Maniwa and Karino, and their corrupt boss Hirukawa. As he did in Perfect Blue, Kon deliberately blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy: Does Tsukikio's stuffed toy really talk to her? Which is Harumi's true personality? A noteworthy series from an important artist. (Rated 16 and older: violence, sexual situations, brief nudity, alcohol and tobacco use)”
Hey, they even rated it for me. I would add, there is a bit of an older person spying on younger person, and these people’s lives kinda go to crap in a frustrating and caging way. Also, the sexual situations part isn’t joking (not explicit, just...there).
Millenium Actress is also a very good movie. The main reason I put it lower than the above two is I consider it a bit lighter watching; I really liked the way the movie was presented and the main character and her search, but it was definitely more relaxed than Perfect Blue or Paranoia Agent. Summary time again:
“After nearly 30 years of living in strict seclusion, the aged film star Chioyoko Fujiwara grants an interview to journalist Genya Tachibana. As their conversation begins, Kan intercuts scenes from Chioyoko's films with her memories of pursuing the mysterious artist she met as a young girl. Accompanied by his blasé cameraman, Tashibana finds himself within Chioyoko's memories and films, alternately observing and aiding the woman he adores.”
This summary is a bit sparse, so I’ll add to it. The way in which this is presented is as a story within a story within a story (and sometimes, within another story). The viewer sees Chioyoko’s life sometimes as part of a film, and sometimes the films are presented as parts of her life, and it works really really well. The blurring of boundaries about what she’s remembering, whether something was reality or just a piece of a role, is genius, and it really brings the pacing along quite nicely. You really feel a lot of sympathy for Chioyoko and her search.
Amazon’s rating for this is “PG: violence and mature themes”, which I don’t have anything to add to; I haven’t seen this movie in a while, and it really is the tamest of Kon’s works.
Paprika is the least good film of Satoshi Kon to date, but that doesn’t make it bad. I actually own this, where I own none of the other ones (I’m going to get Paranoia Agent definitely one of these days, and maybe the other two as well). It also has the most playful treatment of its subject, in terms of tone, world, and characters; the whole story is named after a character who basically just seems to be in it for the fun, the world is half that of dreams (literally), and the plot doesn’t get down to business as much as the others did. The story is still good, and for me at least the visuals made up for a lot of flaws, but the end is too pat for comfort and leaves several plot threads, while not trailing, at least still a little more tangled than I’d like. There’s also a slight issue of the way in which certain characters with certain traits are portrayed, but for the sake of not spoiling I won’t go into that here. Oh, and this one’s another one based on a book.
B&N: “Atsuko is a psychiatrist who uses advanced technology to study the human mind. Atsuko has developed a machine that will allow her to enter the dreams of her patients and study their psyches from the inside. Atsuko also does double duty as Paprika, a high-tech detective who uses this new innovation to find out the truth about what the people she's trailing really think. However, Atsuko falls victim to a thief who steals the one-of-a-kind machine, and Paprika sets out to find it as a wave of psychological instability tears through the city.”
It may sound a little silly, but the film pulls it off well (and hey, it’s anime). One thing the summary wouldn’t mention is that while the two movies previous to this one center almost entirely around a single person, this film, while it still concentrates on one person, also focuses on other characters a significant amount. Overall, while this movie isn’t Satoshi Kon’s best, it’s still well worth a watch.
Amazon rates it “Rated R: violence, violence against women, grotesque imagery, alcohol and tobacco use”, which is about as accurate as it’s going to get. For the violence against women thing, there’s one particularly disturbing scene in which a guy sticks his (metaphysical, they’re in the dream world) hand into a woman’s torso (not bloody, it just...sinks in, like pudding) and splits her open to reveal another naked, unconscious woman inside. He doesn’t do get the chance to do anything to the second woman, although it is implied he would if he had the chance.
I just watched Tokyo Godfathers a little while ago, and if I had to describe the movie in one word that word would be hijinks. Fun, cracky, well done hijinks, but hijinks. I liked this movie a lot, and it focused a lot on the three main characters, which was nice. It is, however, of a different brand than Kon’s other works (which is why it’s at the bottom here, I’m honestly not sure you can do a direct comparison and judgment with the others, so I’m separating it entirely). In everything else, he includes some sort of a connection to dreams, or the mind, or just uncertainty over what is reality and what is not. This movie is the one exception to that rule. It’s based entirely in reality (with some flashbacks, but they’re clearly marked and still grounded) and as close as it gets is a small implication that the baby brings good luck.
Amazon: “Tokyo Godfathers centers on three homeless people: Hana, a flamboyant ex-drag entertainer; Gin, an alcoholic former bicycle racer; and Miyuki, a sullen teenage runaway. Their tenuous existence becomes more chaotic when they set out to find the parents of an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. They scream insults as they confront the lies they've told each other--and themselves--about the past. Yet they remain curiously endearing and even noble. All three care passionately about the abandoned infant, and they love each other, although they're loath to admit it.”
Rated PG-13: profanity, violence, tobacco and alcohol use
A couple notes before I conclude: something I’d like to say about all these works is that the soundtrack and visuals are fantastic. About the only one I’d fault a bit is Perfect Blue, and it has the handicaps of being Kon’s first production and also from 1998 (which, considering those, it’s still fantastic). The other works I didn’t feel like mentioning are a short from the film Memories (which I have seen and was pretty good, but he was solely the writer for it, which is why I chose not to include it...plus, it just wasn’t as good as the ones here) and an anime series called Roujin Z (which he was just animator for and is the first thing Wiki lists as his being involved in; looks kinda cute). He also did the short that’s below (thank goodness for YouTube). Anyway, hope you all enjoyed the monstrous post of monstrousness. Here’s a sample of Satoshi Kon: