Satoshi Kon is somewhat of a rarity these days: a touted maker of anime who is also a respected filmmaker. Although his first major release in the US was 2007's "Paprika", he made three prior films: "Perfect Blue", "Millennium Actress", and "Tokyo Godfathers", as well as the 13-episode TV series "Paranoia Agent." All of them are different, and all of them are complex, but they are all undeniably Kon's.
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.