Anime is more popular outside Japan than ever, but scholarly attention lags behind fandom: the industry is still relatively unexplored by critics and academics in the Anglophone world. Studio Ghibli takes the lion’s share of attention, with a rank of lauded auteurs following behind: Mamoru Oshii, Katsuhiro Otomo, Satoshi Kon.
Even these directors haven’t quite got their dues. Kon — the director of classic features like Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika — is at least the subject of a book in English, Andrew Osmond’s valuable Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist, but it is out of print. So there was room for Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist, a new documentary profile of the man, which premiered at Cannes earlier this month. (The film doesn’t just pinch Osmond’s title but also incorporates the journalist as a talking head.)
The film’s structure is conventional. Director Pascal-Alex Vincent skates over Kon’s early manga in order to explore each of his major works — his four features and sole series, Paranoia Agent — in chronological order. Vincent, who has distributed Japanese films in France and previously directed documentaries on Japanese subjects, was invited to make The Illusionist by Kon’s producers, and he benefits from excellent access. Clips from Kon’s works are interwoven with recollections from a rich mix of admirers and former collaborators, including writers, producers, animators, and other directors.