Dreams and Realities of Satoshi Kon
August 27, 2010
There exists a physical world as we know it. You could be having lunch with your friends and that would be one reality. Then there are virtual worlds imagined by our mind, conscious and subconscious. You may be figuring out in your head how your friend made that delicious looking bento, or if you happened to see her eating a banana, you might just instinctively imagine her performing fellatio for a split second. Just different layers of reality but always existing in separate zones, insoluble like oil and water. Or are they?
Animation is a wonderful medium, erasing boundaries between what is real and imaginary like no live-action can. Animation is magic, we viewers the bewildered audience, and Satoshi Kon the illusionist. His spells are truly one of a kind. We are often left wondering whether the vision we’re seeing is real or simply a projection of character’s emotional and psychological states. Are we looking at a retired actress telling her story to reporter at this very moment? Or a woman pursuing her love? Or is she just relieving her past experience of chasing after a train for film. As we go on watching the story of Millenium Actress, the walls that once stood between real and imaginary dissolve effortlessly, and what is left is a crashing of different realities into a maelstrom of striking imagery and “uncontrollable drama”.
If ‘time’ was keystone to the bridge between Millenium Actress‘s realities, then Perfect Blue was a perfect crisscrossing of emotional states of main protagonist. In Kon’s own words, he “connected her imaginary world and reality so that the audience can follow her crossed-emotions”. Mima might have been smiling after acting out a grueling rape scene, but when we watch her stabbing the screenwriter in frenzy next, followed by her ‘waking up’ in filmshooting (as if it was just dream) or in bed with her bloody hands, it makes Perfect Blue far more bizarre and surreal than any super-budget dream-reality films like Matrix or even Inception.
I won’t spoil a thing about Perfect Blue (since that’s just pure evil), but I’d just like to mention an utterly, utterly unforgettable and terrifying imagery of a certain character standing in front of mirror, where the mirror is projecting a harsh truth suppressed by the unconscious state, as if to mock the imaginary vision that the character is mistaking for reality. You can also find the same menacing traces of Perfect Blue in Kon’s Paranoia Agent, especially the brilliant episode 4.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Kon’s dream-infused portrayal of our world is so affecting is because dreams are only a step away from reality, not against it. Paranoia Agent was most in-depth in that regard, presenting horrifying hallucinations that many characters (each representing a part of microcosm that is modern Japanese society) experience as a consequence of complex forces exerted by the society. But what elevates Paranoia Agent from boring social critique to absolutely ravaging psychological thriller is the constant warring of paranoid dreams (innermost thoughts and desires) and illusions of Shounen Bat (escape), all portrayed in Kon’s cinematic fashion. Lies and illusions are at odds with reality. Dreams are our inner most thoughts and desires materialised in bizarre and irrational forms.
And Satoshi Kon is the Illusionist who, with the kind of magic no animator can hope to replicate, fills our vision with that very bizarre and irrational forms and presents our world as it is with past and present, conscious and unconscious, fears and desires. It’s truly unfortunate that The Dream Machine will never be anything like Kon’s (assuming they get to finish it), and even more tragic that many wonderfully eccentric ideas, stories, characters and images stored inside his imagination will never be animated.
Thank you Kon for showing me the world like no one can.