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Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist Paperback – December 1, 2009
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Andrew Osmond's book The Illusionist details this one of a kind filmmaker and his works.
If you're not familiar with Kon's work you may want to rent some before reading, since much of this book is simply an in-depth dissection of his stories.
The book is broken into 6 parts- one for Kon's early life and career and one for each of his films and TV series. Each work has a brief summary, a plot breakdown, a more detailed analysis and a sidebar of interesting facts.
Personally, I would have liked more insight into Kon himself and less plot breakdowns of his films, all of which I've seen multiple times. There's not much of a point in this book catering to anyone but established fans, so you might as well not talk much about things people already know
I at least would like to have seen pictures of Kon's actual drawings rather than just screen-caps and promo stills.
I will say the book prompted me to rewatch Millennium Actress for the first time in quite a while as well as try to purchase the now hard to come by DVDs of Paranoia Agent. So even though I would have liked to see this book done differently, it has made me better appreciate one of my favorite filmmakers. So if you're already a big fan of Satoshi Kon, this book may be right up your alley.
In this book, Andrew Osmond has done a fine job getting under the surface of these works. He devotes a chapter to each, examining its origins, followed by a plot synopsis and critical analysis. Each chapter also features sidebars full of additional interesting information; kind of like an extra commentary track. The book is full of quotes from Kon himself, taken from many sources, including interviews conducted by Osmond. Osmond also includes a brief biography of Kon, and chronicles his rise through the anime industry (this bit is also an interesting look at the industry itself). This book isn't a superficial highlight reel, but a serious and critical study of the psychology and history of Kon and his work.
Osmond has obviously done his homework, making comparisons to characters and trends spanning all five of Kon's releases, as well as other anime. He has a clear understanding of what Kon is trying to say, and communicates his observations and theories in easy-to-follow, entertaining prose. While Osmond is clearly a fan of Kon and his work, he has no problem pointing out what he considers to be inconsistencies or shortcomings. He keeps his analysis objective, which makes it all the more valuable. The book is also quite up-to-date, mentioning Kon's next project, "The Dream Machine", currently scheduled for a 2010 release.
This book is not for newcomers to Kon. It is rife with spoilers, and it must be noted that Kon's anime deals with adult subject matter, such as sex and violence (unlike directors like Miyazaki, none of Kon's current catalog is suitable for children). However, Osmond's book is a perfect and rewarding companion for those familiar with Kon, as well as those who want to learn more about this intriguing artist. The book is insightful, well-researched, and intelligent, while still being an entertaining read. Osmond deserves much credit for keeping the book moving swiftly, while not glossing over the complicated subjects of Kon's anime.
Most of Kon's work deals with reality and how the perception of his characters affects that reality. Kon's characters are three-dimensional, and seem like real people despite being animated. Each of Kon's work is bursting with creativity, but for different reasons. Whether it's the shifting of reality in "Millennium Actress" and "Paprika", the antics of "Tokyo Godfathers", or the examination of the effects of guilt and identity in "Paranoia Agent" and "Perfect Blue", Kon examines what it means to be human with a flair that's quite unlike any other contemporary filmmaker.
While it can be argued that each of Kon's works may be labeled fantasy, it is not always clear exactly what Kon considers to be fantasy or reality (Osmond tends to agree). Kon's anime gives an equal workout to the mind and the heart, and does not always tie up events with a neat bow.
Satoshi Kon is one of the most interesting and talented directors in contemporary cinema, and Osmond's fascinating and carefully written book gives Kon the attention he deserves.
The introduction gives brief background information on Satoshi Kon and his works, and also includes acknowledgments from the author. The chapter "Kon on Kon" gives a biography of Satoshi Kon, which covers his childhood through his work and professional career prior to Perfect Blue.
This is followed by chapters devoted to specific works that Satoshi Kon directed: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paranoia Agent, and Paprika. Each of these chapters includes a brief overview, the origins of the work, a description of the opening scene, and a synopsis. There are also sidebars labeled as "Points to Note," which include additional information on the work that couldn't be included in the main body of the chapter; this would normally include trivia about the work. A "Key Scene" is included, which is Andrew Osmond's description of the respective scene; it is written a way that tries to resemble a script. These chapters also include still images from each work with accompanying captions. It should be noted that in the chapter for Perfect Blue, one of stills includes quite a bit of blood in it.
The postscript opens with a quote Satoshi Kon made at a retrospective of his work in New York in 2008, and reading this book after Kon's passing, it becomes a rather chilling quote. The postscript works at wrapping everything together, and Osmond tries to look ahead to what Satoshi Kon's next planned anime was; this would be The Dream Machine, which Osmond talks a little bit about in this section. The filmography provides information for each work, including the personnel who worked on it, theatrical release dates, and the various home video releases for each work. The endnotes and bibliography provide information on the sources Andrew Osmond used for writing this book.
Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist is a good read, especially for anime viewers who have an interest in learning more about the director and his body of work. It was very informative, and it helped me better understand the works of Satoshi Kon. For me personally, reading this book has reminded me of what the anime world lost when Satoshi Kon passed away from pancreatic cancer on August 23, 2010. This book would be a perfect addition to an anime fan's library.
I wrote this review after checking out a copy of this book through the King County Library System.