Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist
For Western audiences, Satoshi Kon may be the only Japanese animator outside of Studio Ghibli that they are familiar with. Despite only directing four films, the Japanese animator’s films had an immense influence on both Japanese and American cinema. Part of the reason why Kon’s films made such an impression was because of their fusion of fiction and reality, a popular topic of interest amongst auteur directors. Christopher Nolan’s film Inception perhaps owes the most to Satoshi Kon though scenes in Darren Aronofsky’s films recall Kon’s work, in particular Kon’s debut film Perfect Blue.
Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist chronicles the Japanese auteur’s work from the drawing of his first manga comics to his unfinished work on Dreaming Machine. Kon was a deliberate filmmaker, his attention to detail immaculate – this much is evident through interviews with producer Masao Maruyama who collaborated with Kon on each of his films. Murayama expresses, in broad details, the vision for each of Kon’s feature films while other interviewees remark on their impressions of Kon’s films. There’s a distance between Kon’s intentions and impressions, Aya Suzuki providing much of the commentary on the pressure Kon faced to direct films that could draw people to the box office or be less dark than Perfect Blue. It’s clear that Kon did weigh these considerations when directing films; however, his artistic interpretation of what would draw people to the theaters was, likely for the better, not what generated high ticket sales at the box office.
Even so, Kon’s avant garde approach to animation seemed at odds with the director’s hopes for animated cinema. Apart from telling stories, Kon was deeply concerned with the quality of life and pay for animators and story artists. So much so, that a statement from the director issued after his death bemoaned the fact that animators would be out of a job following his passing.
Pascal-Alex Vincent portrays Kon as not only a great artist, but as a man of integrity. Interviews from filmmakers and artists who worked with Kon directly confirm Vincent’s account of Kon and his life’s work. Released ten years following Kon’s death, Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist comes at an apt time to support Kon’s legacy as an advocate for both the animation industry and artistry within filmmaking.
Dreams on Fire
Yume (Bambi Naka) wants to move to Tokyo to become a dancer. Her grandfather, however, disagrees… to put it lightly. But no matter – we won’t be seeing him again. Sardonic humor aside, Yume is perfectly comfortable leaving all she knows behind. When chasing a dream, little else matters.
Dreams on Fire tells the fortunes and misfortunes that come to Yume when acclimating herself to life in Tokyo and pursuing a career as a dancer. Shortly after she leaves her home, Yume participates in a dance competition at a nightclub. She is no doubt talented, yet she doesn’t have the experience the other dancers have and is quickly eliminated from the competition. Let down, she pursues dancing lessons but first must find a job. Her search leads her to a hostess club where women in costume – from nurse to schoolgirl to maid – entertain a predominantly male clientele while the men are served dinner. It’s not a strip club, but the innuendo is there and the fresh-faced Yume is obviously out of place. A fellow hostess befriends Yume and shows her how to reject men’s advances, but Yume comes to realize that those dining aren’t her biggest concern – her manager is. Having saved up enough and refusing to be trapped by his controlling nature, Yume quits the job and continues her lessons and performances as a dancer.
As anyone who is involved in the creative arts knows, there are peaks and valleys that come with the trade. There’s the euphoria of a new opportunity, followed by the letdown of a non-placing finish. There’s competitiveness that reinforces the toxic mindset that one is not good enough. Yume approaches her challenges with tact and deliberation. After all, this is her dream. There is no other way to approach it. Director/writer Philippe McKie portrays Yume’s challenges with nuance, infusing different genres and locales of Japanese music and performance, respectively, into his script. He also illustrates that it isn’t purely skill that enables one to be successful; it’s also attention to factors outside of performance such as social media and personal branding that lead one to greater opportunities. While Yume’s story might not be a story of incontrovertible success like A Star is Born, Dreams on Fire portrays that dedication and hope are the two most important factors when it comes to truly achieving one’s dreams.