Satoshi Kon Central: Nocturnal Animals Movie Connection

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. Here, I will be discussing how Tom Ford’s 2016 film, Nocturnal Animals, exhibits strong thematic and visual connections to Satoshi Kon’s oeuvre, namely Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. This piece contains full spoilers of Nocturnal Animals and Perfect Blue.

Kon’s Blurred Reality

Threading Satoshi Kon films with modern Hollywood movies is not a common connection. Kon’s style usually exists in its own unique place in cinema history. It is best described in the video, Satoshi Kon – Editing Time and Space, as:

How modern people cope with living multiple lives: private-public, off screen-on                  screen, waking-dreaming… a blurring of reality and fantasy… his most notable                      habit was matching scene transitions. (Every Frame a Painting)

Kon’s mastery of creating stories is seen through his seamless transitions between memory, fantasy, and reality. The best example of this technique is the film Millennium Actress, which weaves the story of a legendary actress by having her past film roles mirror her personal  life. With Kon’s editing, the audience is never positive what reality is being portrayed on screen: the actress’s films or her personal life.

Kon’s first film, Perfect Blue, uses a similar blurred reality story structure. In this, Mima, a pop star turned actress, suffers a psychological breakdown as she slowly loses the distinction between the television screens in which she performs and her private life. After leaving her pop career, her life becomes a waking nightmare spurred by a deranged stalker, Me-Mania, and her clingy manager, Rumi.

In this post, I will compare the cinematic narrative techniques and style between the 2016 film Nocturnal Animals and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.

Nocturnal Animals: A Tale of Parallel Plots

Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 thriller directed by Tom Ford about an art gallery owner named Susan (Amy Adams) who begins to feel disenchanted about her life and work. When her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gylleenhaal), sends Susan the manuscript of his first novel (called Nocturnal Animals), she soon discovers that the book’s plot speaks to the pain Susan caused Edward through her dismissal of his passions and her ultimate abortion of their child.

Jake Gylleenhaal as Tony from Nocturnal Animals. The actor plays the protagonist in the novel narrative of the film.

The plot of Edward’s novel follows a family man named Tony and his hunt for the men who killed his wife and daughter. Tony, like Edward, is a sensitive man trying to come to terms with a sudden, grieving loss in his life.

Edward and Tony’s similarities are no coincidence. In one of Susan’s flashbacks to her relationship with Edward, Edward asks Susan to read one of his writing samples and asks for feedback. Not understanding Edward’s writing or creative endeavors, Susan scornfully tells him to write protagonists unlike himself. Edward responds that all authors only write about themselves. Here it becomes clear to Susan that Tony is fully and wholly Edward. This is further reinforced by the fact that both Edward and Tony are played by Jake Gylleenhaal.

Noctunral Animals: A Kon-esque Film

Just like in Perfect Blue, Nocturnal Animals is told through the protagonists’ memories and delusions. This is especially clear as Susan experiences flashbacks to key moments in her relationship with Edward which relate to both their blossoming and destruction. Just as Perfect Blue is told through Mima’s delusions and anxieties, Nocturnal Animals’ visual and emotional core is presented through Susan’s increasingly diminished psychological mental state. Although Susan’s mental fragility is not as prevalent early on, it becomes clear as the film wears on.

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