This is a series of articles discussing themes present in anime director Satoshi Kon’s works. Kon was an auteur with a unique sense of style, time and reality.
Satoshi Kon is my favorite anime director of all time. With only five works to his name, his status as a director is sometimes overshadowed by larger studios’ work and more prolific directors. However, each of his works are some of the most unique creations not only in anime history, but in cinema history overall. He died at the age of 46 in 2010 and left behind great anime works. In this series, each piece will likely contain full spoilers, so if you have not yet seen the work(s) I am discussing, tread lightly. You have been warned.
The first point of discussion in “Satoshi Kon Central” is the theme of distorted love. This theme occurs when a character possess a warped sense of love and/or attachment to another character or the idea of a character. This is featured prominently in three of Kon’s films: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers.
Perfect Blue (1997), Kon’s feature debut, is about Mima, a former pop star looking to start a new career in acting. The film’s conflict emerges when Mima’s fans become outraged with her career switch. This film can be seen as a criticism of the Japanese pop industry’s brutality and deranged fan obsession.
The obvious distorted love in this film comes from Me-Mania, Mima’s crazed stalker fan who wants to harm Mima for all the personal “distress” her career change has caused him. Arguably, the more distorted love in this film comes from Rumi, Mima’s agent. Rumi craves for the image of Mima the pop star so much that she takes it upon herself to actually become Mima, referring to herself as “The Real Mima.” She loves this image of Mima so incredibly that she wants Mima the former pop star to disappear forever.
Millennium Actress (2001) details the life of the elderly Chiyoko, an internationally-known actress now in seclusion for the past 30 years. She tells her story to two filmmakers looking to create a documentary about her prolific career. The distorted love in this film concerns chasing after a lover long gone.
Early in the Chiyoko’s life narrative, she saves an anti-government activist from the Japanese military. This man, grateful for Chiyoko saving him, gives her the key “to the most important thing there is.” What this physical key opens is never identified in the film, and by all means, does not end up being important. Throughout the film, this key and the man who give it to her (who is long gone) controls Chiyoko’s life. It disrupts her acting career, ends her marriage, and eventually sends her into seclusion.
Viewers are lead to believe that Chiyoko is searching for the key man because she loves him. It is clear that this type of love is unhealthy and that Chiyoko might be wasting her life looking for someone or something that no longer exists. She clings to memories of this man and it consumes her life. It is not until the very last line of the film that the truth is revealed: “After all, it’s the chasing after him I really loved,” Chiyoko says on her deathbed. She never truly loved the man, she loved the idea of searching for him.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003) is a Christmas film following the adventures of three homeless people. The trio encounters a baby in a trash heap, and they believe it is their duty to find the child’s mother. The love they have for the child is completely normal: they want to take care of it. However, the trio encounters a depressed woman, Sachiko, who claims to be the child’s mother in the film; her love for the child is incredibly deranged. It is revealed that her own child died, so she desires any child to love her as a mother, a feeling she only briefly possessed.
The most shocking moment in the film occurs when Sachiko attempts to breastfeed the child in orderly to feel “motherly.” The infant refuses and begins to scream and cry, leaving Sachiko in a desperate and crazed state. In essence, she is forcing love onto an infant for her own sanity, which is clearly unstable. Motherly love can most likely be described (at its purest form) as supportive, understanding and unconditional. The deranged “mother” in Tokyo Godfathers acts in opposition to these traits.
There might be traces of deranged love in other Kon works, but he prominently features dangerous and bizarre relationships in these three works.