Cannes 2021: Satoshi Kon, the illusionist or the portrait of a rock star [critique]

Presented under the Cannes Classics label, this documentary cleverly sums up the career of the genius of Japanese animation, author of Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Paprika.

“He was a hateful person.” He’s one of Satoshi Kon’s producers and best friends who remembers him laughing. “I loved him, but he was a hateful person.” Disappeared in 2010, Satoshi Kon is therefore the object of Satoshi Kon, the illusionist, commissioned documentary intended to retrace the career of one of the most fascinating authors of animation cinema (and of cinema itself). In which we learn, therefore, that Kon seemed to have a pig character: Mamoru Oshii (yes, the real of Ghost in the Shell) explains that the source of their major shouting match was that they were working on a project which Kon was not at the origin – while paradoxically his two most famous films, Perfect Blue and Paprika, are adapted from novels. In short, the good man had really not easy, and his character was confirmed by the theatrical failures of his feature films, inversely proportional to their critical triumph. Brilliant films, bearing the mark of a single author, undoubtedly one of the most important and influential of the 2000s, as we recalled at the end of Perfect Blue in 2017.

Perfect Blue, return of a masterpiece

Discreetly, Pascal-Alex Vincent’s documentary does not seek to unravel the Kon mystery: it brings together precise testimonies from close collaborators (including the founder of the Madhouse studio), learned academics (including the fascinating Marie Pruvost-Delapre) and a few transfixed admirers, including Rodney Rothman (co-director of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Hiroyuki Okiura (Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade), Mamoru Hosoda (also in Cannes 2021 for Beautiful) and a certain Darren Aronofsky. The latter explains moreover benevolently that he asked – and obtained – the authorization of Satoshi Kon himself to pique a plan of Perfect Blue and insert it in Requiem for a Dream (the one where Marion screams in the tub). According to Darren, Satoshi was thrilled, flattered and proud. A hateful person, really, or is Darren drowning the fish? In any case, the documentary, dense and compact, traces Kon’s entire career (but why not have mentioned Magnetic Rose, the magnificent inaugural segment of the anthology Memories of 1995, of which he signed the screenplay which bears all his temporal and visual obsessions?). From his beginnings as a draftsman with Katsuhiro Otomo to the endlessly painful conceptions of his four films and his series Paranoia Agent, to end with the concept arts of his film Dream Machine (drawings included in Paprika, as if to add to the vertigo of the film), Satoshi Kon, the illusionist is the portrait of a unique rock star. A rock star who would have produced only four albums (and a series), but no waste. Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paranoia Agent and Paprika : badly exploited, badly distributed, but all almost perfect, free, accomplished and complete. According to Kon, we hear in this film, each of us constantly carries the past, present and future. Each of his films too. We hope this document will spread the word.

Presented at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Satoshi Kon, the illusionist will be released in theaters on August 4.

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