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THE ART OF SATOSHI KON Review: Remembering an Icon

It’s hard to describe the emptiness felt from losing someone you never knew. Robin William’s death in 2014 left an outpouring of support and tributes across the globe from fans of the comedian and actor’s career. In 2015, the passing of Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata saw fans memorializing him in much the same way. Both were widely grieved by fans as though they had lost a family member.

In 2010, the anime community felt the same pains when director, writer, and artist Satoshi Kon passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 46. But the loss felt from such a filmmaking visionary stretched further than just anime fans. Often regarded the same way as fellow Japanese filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro), Kon’s imaginary and vivid filmmaking has influenced many, including Darren Aronofsky, outside his medium.

Satoshi Kon didn’t simply make anime. Kon created an experience that could never be captured in front of a green screen, treating his anime as a sophisticated art form that leaves viewers captivated and wonderstruck in every scene.

Satoshi Kon’s life was taken far too soon, and his death even shook me, personally. I’m not the type to mourn a celebrity’s death, but Kon’s passing left me with an empty feeling I can’t fully explain. Since then, rewatching Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, or Paprika leaves me with a deep sense of sorrow knowing that the film world will never receive another like him. Kon was one of those rare filmmaking geniuses, who so impeccably gave the viewer a peek inside his colorful imagination that we could become completely submerged in the experience.

Once someone of Kon’s caliber is lost, fans typically look for a sense of closure through previously unreleased works and commentaries from those close to them on who they really were. Not to mourn, but to celebrate all the reasons why they are worth missing.

Art and Content

Sometimes, these postmortem tributes completely miss their mark, feeling like a cheap, vain attempt at memorializing. Thankfully, Dark Horse’s latest art book, The Art of Satoshi Kon, doesn’t attempt to create a posthumous look back on the artist’s life, but instead was a celebration given to him while he was still alive.

Published in Japan in 2010, The Art of Satoshi Kon was originally compiled for a 2008 art gala titled, ‘Ten Years of Souvenirs’. Kon himself selected the pieces and wrote commentaries on them for the event, as the film, art, and anime community celebrated 10 years since his directorial debut.

Held at the Shinjuku Opthalmologist Gallery, the exhibit highlighted everything from Kon’s film career to his early days before directing, even showcasing some of his work as a college student drawing covers for Classical music LPs. Although the book isn’t structured like the usual art book, it takes us onto a more personal journey with the filmmaker as he looks back on the successes and evolution of his career.

For fans of his film and television career, you won’t find much you haven’t already seen. Without knowing that this book was originally a collection created for an art gala, most fans would be disappointed with the array of art provided — limiting Paranoia Agent to 3 pages and Paprika, Kon’s widely regarded “opus” film, covers only 4. Unfortunately, little of the film’s art shown is a private look into the development process. That’s not to say the art isn’t absolutely gorgeous, because it is, just that it isn’t something most fans haven’t seen before. But, again, this isn’t the standard art book.

Another small downside to the book is its layout. Knowing it’s a compilation of an art exhibit forgives the book’s presentation for the most part, however, it’s a shame the art and the commentary aren’t on the same page. While it’s nice to be able to receive the full-page effect of the art, it’s unfortunate that you need to flip to the back of the book to read the notes Kon wrote for them.

With that said, it’s not until we reach his unreleased and early works that this book really shines.

All of the art in his early works fit what you would find in an art gallery to a T. Each one, a beautiful painting that really showcases what a colorful, imaginative artist Kon was, showing off various artistic styles while still keeping that Kon look. Through these pieces we can see how much Kon evolved and toyed around with different styles before standardizing his art’s easily identifiable look.

One image in particular, that has no title, notes or year, perfectly exemplifies Kon’s remarkable attention to detail. In it is a skyscraper view of the Tokyo cityscape, drawn with what appears to have been a ballpoint pen. Meticulously detailed buildings spread out into city blocks, above it a behemoth chunk of skyscrapers and earth sprouting roots that are crawling down and wrapping through the city’s streets. It’s with pieces like that, that take this book from a small collection of film art to a personal look at who this iconic filmmaker was.

Overall

As a longtime fan of Kon’s, this book was highly anticipated and will surely remain on my shelves for years to come. It serves as a welcome reminder of what an influential and awe-inspiring visionary we’ve lost and why we miss him. Being able to read through his humble self-examinations provides a warm sense of connection and insight. As for those unfamiliar with Kon’s work, it presents an alluring introduction to what made him so loved the world over and assists with continuing his legacy.

Although it’s certainly not the perfect commemorate art book, it offers a final bit of reflection from the man himself. In the end, the book’s greatest accomplishment is that it isn’t a look back at an icon lost, but a celebration of his life while he was still here to celebrate it with us.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cover image via

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Categories: Book Reviews, Comic Reviews

Author:Jen

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Another Castle | Twitter: @ComradeJen

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2 Comments on “THE ART OF SATOSHI KON Review: Remembering an Icon”

  1. Marsman
    07/27/2015 at 7:28 PM #

    I have always loved his art. Paprika and perfect blue ate really amazing!

  2. 07/28/2015 at 10:46 AM #

    Agreed. Kon was really amazing and it’s a tragedy we lost him so soon. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the book!

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