This year, one of the most famous and celebrated anime directors, Satoshi Kon, passed away. I couldn’t quite join in with the remembrance of his work though. The anime of his I’d seen was limited to Paranoia Agent and Magnetic Rose. Magnetic Rose is excellent, without being outstanding enough for me to really love his work, while Paranoia Agent is a mixed bag with some excellent episodes and a terrible ending. I hadn’t seen any of his 4 feature length films, what he was really known for. I had to correct that massive gap in my anime viewing experience.
I still haven’t seen all 4 of his films. I’ve yet to watch Perfect Blue, but I did watch his other 3, Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress. First, to get this out of the way, I’m not that big on Paprika. It was cool until the last 30 minutes odd where it stopped making sense and became one big gloopy mess. Much like Paranoia Agent, except at least with Paranoia Agent you could pretend the ending didn’t matter and that it was a bunch of well told but unrelated stories. You can’t do that with Paprika. It’s a continuous story that falls apart towards the end, damaging the entire story. But Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress are amazing. Powerful, clever, witty and so perfectly constructed pieces.
They’re very different stories but they’re both told through the same methods and the same things make both movies work. What in particular stood out for me in both of them were how perfectly the stories wound in on themselves. No plot thread would be mentioned without it having significant impact later on in the story. If the homeless guy in Tokyo Godfathers says the money is for his daughter in a throwaway comment, that money will reach his daughter before the end. Along with that, they both keep to the rules their own worlds have created. If the Millennium Actress is going to be saved, it will always be the interviewer. If a women is telling her to stay put and not go chasing after her dreamboat, it will always be the older actress. In that sense, they do the total opposite to Paprika. Paprika has the same aesthetic style and style of directing, but he doesn’t keep to his own rules he set within the world.
But what really hit hard in these movies were the apparent coincidences, that might have caused eye-rolling in any other anime, were built into the story. It was because they had the ‘Gift from God’ baby that miracles happened. If they didn’t, by a lucky chance, meet the very person they were looking for, it wouldn’t have kept with the feel of the story. If the Millennium Actress didn’t keep having the very same story happen to her throughout the ages, it wouldn’t have worked. The stories drove these coincidences and demanded that they happen. And it turns out I am a total sucker for this type of story. Last years’ twelve days I remarked that only Grave of the Fireflies was able to break my cold heart of stone, but it did that through manipulation of emotions. Both Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress did that through sheer power of story alone, a much more difficult and laudable achievement.
Thank you Satoshi Kon. I wasn’t able to celebrate your life along with the rest of fandom, so I’m a few months behind everyone else on this. Thank you for the great stories you left us.