Satoshi Kon in the West – Influence in Storytelling

In his lifetime, Japanese animator Satoshi Kon directed 4 feature films, with a fifth titled Dreaming Machine indefinitely on hold due to his untimely death in 2010. While Kon initially started working as a manga artist, it was evident even in those early days which direction his work was headed in. Currently, Kon is considered to be an anime auteur because of his recognizable style that has influenced numerous filmmakersWhat sets apart Kon from his peers in the anime community is the stories he chooses to tell. The four films leading up to Dreaming Machine all tackled similar themes concerning characters lives – past vs. present, online vs. offline and dream vs. real. Many of them struggle with identity issues, usually due to a merge of two personas that is often shown as an unsettling experience. Using these characters Kon has heavily integrated social commentary into his films, whether with the intention to warn against the dangers of fantasy or to emphasize the importance of love and perseverance. Even if this is the first time you are reading the name Satoshi Kon and you haven’t seen a single one of his films, you might be familiar with his style in a different way.

If you haven’t seen Perfect Blue, maybe you’ve seen Black Swan. Darren Aronofsky has openly acknowledged Satoshi Kon’s influence on his works, although it is arguable if it can be called just influence.

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream

Many have argued that Aronofsky’s Black Swan, though a new take on the classic story, seems strikingly similar to Kon’s Perfect Blue, to the point where the two leads Nina and Mima even have similar names. It would be hard to argue that this take on the Black Swan is entirely derived from Kon’s film particularly because of the animator’s emphasis on the setting where his stories take place, which is usually Japan. Culturally, the two stories are far apart because of the differing attitudes of the people around the main characters. While Mima finds herself in danger from obsessive fans who idolize her and producers who envy her alike, Nina is the only one who poses any danger to the people around her because of the delusions she’s facing. However, the sexualization of these two women is tackled quite similarly – both for Mima and Nina the act they seem to dread leads to success since they get the roles they want and the question remains whether it was worth the cost.

Top: Mima from Perfect Blue, Bottom: Nina from Black Swan

Ultimately, the most striking similarity lies in the scenes where Mima and Nina are followed by a doppelgänger, which is the cause of their eventual breakdowns. Unlike Nina, Mima’s paranoia is not completely delusional and can be partly justified since there are disruptions in her life which serve as evidence of real danger caused by her doppelgänger as well as people around her who mean to harm her, while the danger in Nina’s life seems to be confined to her delusions. In the end the use of a mirror as a weapon is once again quite similar in the two films, but where Mima does not actively try to kill her lookalike, Nina aggressively attacks it, leading to very different outcomes.

While it is clear Aronofsky was more than a little inspired by the works of Satoshi Kon, he never hid from his admiration and even wrote an obituary for the late artist who inspired him, emphasizing the importance and impact of his work. The same cannot be said for Christopher Nolan, who so clearly was influenced by Kon’s final film Paprika yet has never admitted to it. If you haven’t seen Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, surely you’ve at least heard about Inception.

Top: Paprika, Bottom: Inception

The stories essentially share the same idea, there is a new technology allowing people to go into others dreams. Even the two main characters of Inception Dom and Ariadne resemble Konakawa and Paprika, the main difference being that Inception centers around its male characters while Paprika doesn’t. Once again, changing the setting to be in America rather than Japan changes much of the story, and certainly having the use of the device be for selfish reasons rather than for the aid of others separates the two films greatly. Still, it is undeniable that certain scenes are too similar for it to be mere coincidence.

Ultimately, the question of theft and originality is a strange one. While many say that no story is truly original, is there really a right way to use other peoples work to create something new? It is a particularly tough question when considering how many adaptations are made to bring stories from the East to a Western audience, resulting in a type of movie surgery which if not done correctly can lead to a grotesque creation. However, it is worth mentioning that most adaptations come with good intentions, the most common reasons usually being a director wanting to share their favorite works with an audience that might be reluctant to watch foreign films. There is an argument to be made that audiences deserve more credit than Hollywood gives them, and that they might be glad to get acquainted with the original work if it were more available. However, it is still a fact that modern society holds on to some stigma towards older or foreign films, so no matter the amount of marketing involved an anime like Paprika would have never preformed as well as Inception with its all star cast. On the other hand, Kon and his peers are not exempt from influence as many popular Eastern movies are adaptations of Western stories, such as Ozu’s Tokyo Story which takes after Make Way For Tomorrow. In the end it seems like influence is inescapable. It goes without saying that Black Swan and Inception are not bad films, they are both great works, but in the case of the latter, it is not the influence that is the problem but the lack of acknowledgement and credit where credit is due.

Sources:

https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/26075/1/the-cult-japanese-filmmaker-that-inspired-darren-aronofsky

http://www.openculture.com/2018/05/how-master-japanese-animator-satoshi-kon-pushed-the-boundaries-of-making-anime.html

Why “Letterboxd” is a Must

Movies have surrounded my whole life and have inspired why and how I do certain things. For so many human beings, films are a way to not only be entertained, but to sympathize with what’s being conveyed on screen and absorb a new understanding or viewpoint of a certain problem, feeling, or story. 

There are thousands if not millions of movies that exist: short films, long films, animated films, good films, bad films, documentaries, musicals, zombie movies, musical zombie movies, you name it. There are a plethora of genres and within those genres, filmmakers who have perfected and specialized in their own unique ways of storytelling. These filmmakers have changed the way every filmmaker after them approached the art form in significant ways. With so much in the world of movies to discover, it may be hard to find a clear starting point, or figure out what direction you want to head towards. There is one platform that poses a solution to this problem.

An article on the power of storytelling in society: https://www.health.org.uk/newsletter-feature/power-of-storytelling

“Letterboxd” is a New Zealand run social network, founded by Michael Buchanan and Karl von Randow, specifically made to discover and discuss films and filmmaking. The platform is extremely immersive, and lets you rate and comment on films, as well as keep track of ones you want to see with a watchlist. There is also a feature on the site, that enables you to keep a “diary” of when you’ve watched or rewatched any movie, so you and people who follow you can see what you’ve been viewing lately.

Here is a statement from the website: https://letterboxd.com/about/frequent-questions/

Here is a picture of my profile.

Another feature is “lists” where users can make collections of certain movies that fall under a title of your choosing. Some lists are extremely helpful in the moviegoing experience, like lists keeping track of a director’s filmography, as well as what movies of a certain filmmaker, genre, or language other people recommend to watch. Other lists are amusing and fun to create, such as the one linked below: https://letterboxd.com/videopopple/list/coronavirus-advice-in-films/

These features make it extremely easy and fun to get involved with the platform and is an enjoyable tool to have if you love movies, or even just if you like them. Perhaps the most important feature on the site is the ability to write reviews and discuss your perception with other users. This allows for an open discussion of thoughts and opinions that not only strengthens the human connection, but strengthens the way we view art and themes conveyed in that art.

CONCLUSION

At this point in time, with the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, it is more important than ever to not only connect with one another, but to deepen our love for storytelling and the arts as much as possible. In doing so, as individuals we will certainly grow and start to appreciate our lives as we know it, which we desperately need to do right now. Movies, as well as Letterboxd, is just one enriching way to do so.