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Tag: Satoshi Kon

Perfect Blue: Blurring the Worlds & Sexuality

“My father used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.”
– Evey Hammond

I once heard one of my university lectures argue that a painting was infinitely better than a photograph, because the latter captures reality, whilst the former creates reality. In the hands of a master, a portrait can evoke, emphasis and whisper unspoken truths to an audience; painting is a medium where the artist can indulge and lavish in subjectivity; photography is always somewhat limited by the physical.

Satoshi Kon wholeheartedly embodies this principle and runs with it, Perfect Blue (1997) is a film to be experienced and not understood, because its priority isn’t to convey facts but rather to create a filter of insanity, loneliness and fear. Perfect Blue follows the protagonist Mima Kirigoe, a beautiful pop idol working as the lead singer in CHAM!, who after recognising the instability of the industry, attempts to become an actress, forcing her to actively ditch her ‘spotless virgin image’. Her decision angers a psychopathic fan known only by his online alias; ‘Me-Mania’, a man who has dedicated his life to punishing Mima for betraying his perceptions of her. Kon doesn’t attempt to craft a realistic villain, instead Me-Mania is hideously ugly, terrifying distorted. Just like Picasso’s postmodern works, Kon’s focus isn’t so much on an accurate depiction of life, but rather in creating a narrative through manipulating emotions.

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Kon’s works often features the concept of duality; and this is most evidently seen in the intertwining of the real and the ‘unreal’ worlds. The ‘real’ world contains all the physical matter around us, it is governed by logic, infrastructure and scientific facts. The ‘unreal’ world is one of chaos, ruled by emotion and built to metaphorically subvert the ‘real world’ through its contrast and intervention.

And the two worlds are set on a path of collision.

The one skill which separates Kon from his contemporaries is his complete mastery of editing. Kon is a film director who lets his edits dictate the tone of the film, instead of letting the plot guide the atmosphere of the film. As Mima starts losing track of reality, the editing mirrors this with the scenes bleeding into each other; where the linear progression of time is disrupted, reversed and dissected. The opening of Perfect Blue is so effective since it skilfully blends Mima’s idol dance routine into the ordinary task of purchasing goods; conveying that the two worlds she inhabits are inherently linked through her memory and consciousness. Kon’s art is one which thrives by discarding the generic restrictions imposed upon the directors and audience within the anime community.

Perfect Blue is terrifying because it refuses to follow the conventions of a linear narrative, the traditional labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ don’t exist when the very fabric of reality is uncertain. As Mima slowly becomes more consumed with the fear of leaving behind her her pop idol past and the creeping dangers of her stalker, her grip on reality completely vanishes as the last act of the film becomes a dizzying blend of life, alternate realities and fears. As Mima loses control of her public persona, she finds it increasingly difficult to differentiate between the two worlds and slowly begins to fall into a repetitive, monotonous pattern where time is subject to the passions of the heart and the terrors of the mind.

The truly terrifying aspect of this loss of reality is the inability to concretely understand what is happening around her as Mima’s mental fears and insecurities start to physically manifest. She get stabbed by a mirage of her pop idol past and later she kills Me-Mania only to find out that his body has disappeared; the audience is forced to ponder whether or not such actions actually occurred in reality. This overlapping of the two realities is also reflected in Me-Mania’s life as the pictures of Mima around his bedroom start physically interacting with him, whispering their support of his sexually preversed desire to kill Mima. What this creates is a sense of constant apprehension, where threats can materialise out of anywhere since they are not bounded to the same limitations found in the physical world. Mima’s only worse enemy is her mind, since it seems intent on conjuring up her own destruction.

Perfect Blue provides us a frightening insight into the chaotic world of Mima, a girl who has allowed the culivation of an external pop persona of sex appeal and charisma; wildly different to her calmer and more humble self she displays in the company of these she loves and trusts. Yet her public avatar has now become such an entity that it now thrives independently, riding the momentum of her fame.

Perfect Blue tackles the issue of technology and how easy it is to create, maintain and ultimately lose control of one’s public avatar. Mima stumbles onto an internet diary dedicated to recording her life and feelings through the lens of her idol persona, a website created by Me-Mania. Whilst initially finding it humourous, Mima’s naive appreciation soon turns to fear as she realises that she is being stalked and also that this website is now publishing statements which do not reflect her own feelings.

Throughout the entire film, Kon suspends the audience in a state of constant fear by alluding to the imminent sense of danger without revealing it. In the beginning, Mima’s home phone rings and she hears the slow breathing of Me-Mania, but naively hangs up, thinking it was an accidental call. Slowly this escalates to him poisoning the fishes, sending her a small explosive, killing those around her and finally even confronting her in person.

The audience is fully aware of the danger that now threatens her life but is completely unable to affect or warn her about it. The result is a nail biting ninety minutes, there were many moments where I genuinely considered pausing the film because my heart was stuck in my throat; I was terrified at what would happen to Mima.

Another one of the central themes of Perfect Blue is the objectification of a women’s body for profit, something which Kon strongly voices against. Kon portrays this relationship between Mima and the media companies who greedily consume and distribute her image as rape; the exploitation of the human body for financial benefits. The cameras (which are always held by male photographers) are phallic instruments, which pierce and unveil, ignorant to the consequences of their lust. This voyeurism peaks when Mima accepts a role where she pretends to be raped within a nightclub; we see her body through the lens of a camera and not her point of view; she is an object to be acted upon.

The power dynamic of sex is also reflected in Me-Mania’s final confrontation with Mima, where he confesses that he attempts to destroy this new ‘reincarnation’ of Mima through raping her and eventually killing her. Symbolically he attempts to commit this crime on the same film set previously mentioned, where Mima was ‘raped’ whilst acting; further blurring the lines between the two worlds. For a character who only has a few lines of dialogue throughout this film; Me-Mania’s shadow taints every interaction, every scene and location, he is truly terrifying, in an illogical manner which cannot be reasoned with.

Whilst, one certainly feels sorry that Mima gets type casted into these ‘traditionally’ female roles where are built upon her sexuality and youthful looks. Though one has to ask whether or not this depiction is ‘fair’ as Mima herself willingly enters into this relationship and she also ‘exploits’ the media to garner social capital and publicity: Regardless, Kon’s criticisms about female objectification is still a fresh breath of air in an industry universally famous for the disproportionate sizes and the overt sexualisation of their female characters.

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Me-Mania holding the public perception of Mima.

Whilst Me-Mania is unquestionably an evil, twisted rapist with little redeeming qualities, it is unsettling to be reminded that his vendetta against Mima arose out of his complete consumption and obsession with her idol persona. Financially, he was arguably everything that the media companies wanted; a fan who brought into the cultivation of this idol as a form of escapism.

At the core of Perfect Blue is the tension between a carefully crafted image and the noticeably less shiny exterior of reality and the dangers of intertwining the two. Fundamentally, all the troubles and negative consequences arise out of an inability to distinguish between these two realms; Mima cannot separate herself from her past as an idol and Me-Mania cannot see Mima as anything but a perfect little doll. Released in 1997, Kon’s work feels more relevant than ever as the internet and social media has become increasingly infused into the audience’s lives.

Perfect Blue features the traditional interpretation of fame; a person elevated to a profiting brand by the powerful media companies; reflective of stardom in the 1990s. Yet today, the internet has connected people in a way which has revolutionised our society; today, everyone has an avatar, everyone has an audience and everyone is a performer. And the concerns of Perfect Blue are more disturbing than ever.

5 Centimeters Per Second – Review & Analysis. (Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru)

63060 “They say it is 5 centimetres per second”
“Huh? What is?”
“The speed of falling cherry blossom petals is 5 centimetres per second”

The world is chaotic and cruel, threatening to consume us in the unstoppable waves of time, sweeping us with reckless abandon from location to location, from job to job, from family to family. Makoto Shinkai’s film 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) explores how time and the outside pressures can alter even the purest of romances, resulting in a mature, emotional and realistic depiction of humanity and our attempts to overcome loneliness.

Shinkai develops one of the most visually stunning pieces of animation ever, using soft but vibrant colours to mesmerise the audiences. Sadly, the breath taking images has come to define this film and the other aspects of the story are often neglected or forgotten. The end result is a powerful texts with many flaws, but a text which explores the themes of isolation, communication and relationships in a sophisticated manner. Personally, as someone who believes that life is and should be completely about forging relationships, this film’s messages really resonated with me and I will acknowledge that in many sense I am predisposed to connecting with film. I would still recommend this film for all who want a text to maturely explore not only the highs but the lows and the pain which can stem as a byproduct of love, a message which is often ignored. Too often narratives opt to follow the cliche romantic formula substituting predictability for creativity, 5 Centimeters Per Seconds definitely has a sorrowful ending, yet in some aspects, the ending was surprising uplifting and… human.

“The overwhelming weight of our lives to come and the uncertainty of time hung over us, but soon, all my fears began to melt away, leaving only Akari’s soft lips on mine.”

5 Centimeters Per Second spans three different story arcs, consisting of Part One “Cherry Blossoms”, Part Two “Cosmonaut” and Part Three, each narrative details the life of Tataki Tono, his journey from an innocent child to a weary and lonely adult. This film explores how the two protagonist Tataki and Akari Shinohara attempt to maintain their relationship despite the widening physical and emotional gap between the pair. “Cherry Blossoms” shows the two school children bonded over common interests, gradually developing unspoken feelings for each other, which both of them struggled to understand. The following two chapters focuses primarily upon Tataki and the repercussions of falling in love, his inability to meaningfully communicate and reveal his feelings to Akari starts to eat away at his innocence and brightness. Whilst this is ultimately a simple narrative, Shinkai’s non-linear story telling combined with his ability to embed meaning and significance in ‘trivial’ every day moments means whilst 5 Centimeters Per Second can be rather slow, this was a calculated decision to highlight the realistic journey embarked by Tataki and Akari.*

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Animation style and the accompanying soundtrack are two critical components to creating an emotional and engaging text, thus I often feel the best way to present readers with the general vibe of the film is to simply provide both. There are limits to what words from a distant stranger can convey, thankfully music and these still images have the ability to conquer such boundaries. As previously stated the animation in this film is truly stunning and breath taking, under Shinkai’s genius, all images were subtly infused with a pleasant tenderness and softness. Japanese animation is home to a few masters such as Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda and of course the great Miyazaki, but no other director can manipulate light, shadows and colours the way Shinkai can. The end product is a film where the images feel alive, where blades of grass rustle when kissed by a gentle breeze, where people and objects move independently mimicking the hurried existence of the 21st century.

Part of Shinaki’s mastery is the fact that he is willing to take artistic liberties, outlining certain characters and objects in white to give them an angelic look, something which becomes even more prominent in his latest work Garden of Words (2013). Likewise even objects in the distance are not blurry and undefined, instead they are sharp and clear creating a dreamy world, one which doesn’t completely mimic reality, but a stage so similar that it threatens to swallow the audiences, never allowing them leave this melancholy paradise.

The music composed by Tenmon (Atsushi Shirakawa) was elegant, beautiful and sincere, never dominating or imposing its will upon the film but always present to help convey the haunting emotions to the audience. As previously stated in my previous articles, music has always been a subject which I feel words can not comprehend so instead of clumsily summarising my feelings on Tenmon’s works, I will embed these pieces at the end of my article for the audience to form their own judgments.

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A simple story can be engaging if the director is able to infuse meaning into the simplicity, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a work where symbolism flourishes, revealing the unspoken truths about humanity. Love is a dangerous game, it’s a journey paved with many pit falls and dead ends, but it’s the only game worth playing. Through out this film trains are featured prominently, being the bridge that both connects Takaki and Akari but also paradoxically serving as a reminder to the vast distance between them. Likewise the trains are reflections for the main protagonist, forever set upon their lonely path predetermined by the outside world, unable to change their course because their self determination had been stripped away. The train boarded by Takaki being immobilised by the cold weather represents more than just a stagnant vehicle, it foreshadows a stagnant future paralysed by the snow (snowflakes are constantly said to be the mirror of cherry blossoms).

Whilst the two protagonist have many similarities, their approach to their past romances highlights the fickle nature of love, Akari was able to forge new connections, replace her lost love with the presence of others. Takaki; whose past defines him, scars him and leaves him unable and unwilling to create new relationships due to a nostalgic desire to preserve the past, is currently sitting in a hole of self regret. I believe that’s one of the themes of 5 Centimeters Per Second, people change, relationships change, best friends and lovers become strangers, it’s a cycle which constantly repeats, but it’s important to rebuild new connections to stop one from sinking into a pit of despair.

Time has a strange habit of dulling passions which once burnt bright and despite the fact that relationships like cherry blossoms will slowly drift apart (at a rate of 5 centimeters per second), it is important to acknowledge the influences that people have had on your life. We’re like a blank piece of canvas with every friend, event and lover lending their own brush upon the white fabric, our life story will be an accumulation of not only our personal decisions but the decisions of our friends and family.

5 Centimeters Per Second‘s mature approach to such melancholy (but strangely endearing) themes meant I really connected with this film, even more than some Ghibli films. Topics of family, relationships and love have always spoken to me deeply, echoing the life which I strive towards. But besides the film’s thematic elements, there was a lot of substance to the story with some haunting images and scenes which have left an imprint on me. As Takaki finally arrived at his destination, hours later due to the dangerous weather conditions, he sees Akari slumped against a seat, visibly shaken by sorrow and weariness. Takaki approaches slowly and anxiously, upon seeing him, Akari reaches out and grabs his hand, the pair emotionally break down, their sobs echoing in the air as words are just inadequate to express their emotions.

Akari had waited at the station for an extra four hours, hoping desperately that Takaki would show up, that their friendship couldn’t be halted by trivial matters like weather, time or distance. Akari’s relief floods over her, she’s so happy that she can’t even make eye contact with him. Takaki tries to desperately compose himself, but his feelings of inadequacy rise to the top, he is unable to protect the person he loves the most, he silently cries, reunited with Akari at long last. It’s a haunting scene, a display of pure humanity, the need to love and be loved.

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“I became unbearable sad, sad because I didn’t know what to do with her warmth against me, or what to do with that soul, or how long I should hold onto them. I also came to the realisation, we would not be able to stay together.”

Communication is the heart beat of relationships. Friendship and love are fragile bonds and they nurtured with shared experiences and moments. That’s another theme which gets addressed in 5 Centimeters Per Second, how vital expressing one’s emotion is, if we are to maintain healthy connections. The two protagonist were always physically and emotionally isolated, their inability to converse with others meant the audience never really saw Takaki or Akari bond with others. Takaki’s letter which he originally wanted to give to Akari is swept away by a sudden breeze, foreshadowing their decaying relationship and reinforcing how outside events and situations had and will and had always impede upon their relationship. Likewise when Akari fails to give her letter to Takaki, the couple’s fate is sealed, as much as they wanted to remain by each other’s side, the cruel hand of fate had coldly predetermined their future already.

Takaki’s inability to express his emotions drives away Kanae, another classmate and a potential girlfriend as he is too absorbed in the past to live in the present. Unable to form meaningful friendships in Kagoshima, Takaki develops the telling habit of writing text messages, recounting his feelings and then deleting them, too afraid to send them to Akari, in case she reacts negatively or worse, aloof. In the third chapter, Takaki and Akari have both moved back to Tokyo, physically they are as close as ever, but the emotional silence has crippled the once passionate relationship, the lack of communication has sadly stifled their chances of love. Takaki and Akari’s bonds can symbolise two completely different things depending upon one’s attitude and situation. Either Shinkai is emphasising the fragility of love or this is a harsh reminder that long distance relationships will not survive, as letters, emails and text messages will never be sufficient substitutes for physical touch and smiles. ** 321784 5 Centimeters Per Second was an enjoyable film, filled with sophisticated commentary about love and the repercussions for such passionate emotions, it still had flaws which prevents it from reaching the level of a Princess Mononoke (1997) or Cowboy Bepop (1998). The characters failed to develop beyond their initial concepts as the film was not able to expand on their defining characteristics, instead Takaki and Akari felt rather bland and forgettable. Honestly there is not a single trait that either Takaki or Akari had which I could elaborate upon, the episodic nature of the film also didn’t help in this regard as after every time skip I felt like I was dealing with an entirely different character.

It is important to note the emotional heart beat of Shinkai’s work stems from the fact that the situations that Takaki and Akari find themselves in is inherently sad and not because they were memorable or relatable characters. This is especially true for Kanae, a supporting character who features in part two “Cosmonaut”, with her only defining trait being her feelings for Takaki. She barely changes throughout her screen time and her inability to break out of her character archetype combined with the fact the audience fully knew that a relationship with Takaki would be impossible meant Cosmonaut was rather stagnant and dull.

Whilst weak characters are a sign of poor writing and possibly a director who believed the visuals took priority, the undefined personality of Takaki and Akari means the audience can easily substitute themselves in place of the two protagonists. One could argue that the lack of strong and memorable characters was a calculated decision, further allowing the audience to implant their memories and experiences into the film. Whilst I personally see credit behind this argument, I still believe that the film would of been much more enjoyable if characters showed genuine signs of evolution or maturity, and overall I still consider the characters the weakest aspect of 5 Centimeters Per Second. 110127 Takaki’s  love for Akari starts to numb him, unable to cope with these emotions, he chooses to distance himself from society, creating a cycle of misery which seeps into his personal life, his home and his body language. He enters a local shop, flips through a few magazines and then suddenly it begins to snow, not only for him but also for Akari who is silently waiting at a train station miles away. The two protagonists were not able to conquer the physical and emotional distance which separated them, they were not able to enjoy cherry blossoms together, but even now their lives are still connected as their memories with each other transcends the physical world. At that exact moment, it starts snowing for the two protagonists, not cherry blossoms but snow flakes, a reminder of the night they spent together as youth, a night where the pair realised their love for each other but simultaneously that their eventual separation was inevitable.

Near the conclusion of the film, an adult Takaki walks down through the familiar streets, reliving the distant memories of his time with Akari, it seems that after a decade, he is finally willing to confront the past that had temporarily withered away his dreams and his chance at a future… The cherry blossoms begin to fall. Slowly, Takaki approaches the train tracks from his youth and unknowingly Akari crosses from the other side and in a split second, both the protagonists subconsciously recognise each other. Both begin to turn around, just as their view is blocked off by two incoming trains, our hearts soar for a few moments at the prospect of the pair uniting… But when the trains have sped away, Akari has walked off.

As dearly as I wanted Takaki and Akari to rekindle their past love, Shinkai’s decision to keep their separate means the film was not only more emotional but more plausible. We all walk down a lonely road and our paths will occasionally intersect with others, but for our protagonist, life had stubbornly separated their journeys, only embers of their passion remained.*** Takaki turns around, a sad, nostaglic smile fixed on his face, he marches forward, signalling his decision to embrace a future not tainted by self regret and not defined by a love that never came to fruition. 295942

Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second, stands as a reminder, a reminder to the tenderness of human passion, a reminder of this chaotic and unexpected road we all walk called life and the importance of constant communication; the life blood of relationships. This film’s connections to Romeo and Juliet (1597) are numerous, from two star crossed lovers born into difficult situations to a text which explores the negative consequences sparked by uncontrolled love. The combination of spectacular animation combined with a gentle soundtrack creates a rich world for the audience to dive into. 5 Centimeters Per Second stands as one of my favourite pieces of animation, with themes and messages that resonate with me so much, I quite literally feel like Shinkai’s work was produced specifically with myself in mind.

What we are left with is a film, a film which bravely attempts to tackle the unspoken negative consequences of love without the glamour and glitz of portrayed in popular media. Is love worth so much suffering? Is love synonymous with suffering? Despite the many flaws in Shinkai’s work, it still stands as one of my favourite animated works, the pains of unrequited love is one of the hardest emotions to deal and 5 Centimeters Per Second hauntingly shows how a romance so pure can be withered away by reality.The film reflects Shinkai’s mature story telling and his dedication to crafting a realistic environment which mirrored our own.

Whoever you are, where ever you, I wish you all the best and that love never, ever falters you.

Genre: Anime, Romance Film, Animation, Japanese Movies, Drama
Certificate: G
USA Release Date: 3rd March 2007
Runtime: 63 minutes
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Johnny Yong Bosh, David Matranga, Hiliary Haag, Erika Lenhart, Tara Platt, Kira Buckland, Julie Ann Taylor Synopsis: Takaki and Akari fall in love at a young age, the pair try to understand and maintain their feeling despite the widening physical and emotional distance.

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* It is the small decisions that lead to the significant and important events, the moments where Takaki and Akari would spend time at the library, running around the playground or patting a stray cat could be considered slow and uneventful… But personally, it reflects the reality of life, most people don’t meet their loved ones by saving them from a burning building, love usually doesn’t announce itself to the world, instead it is something which most be worked upon by two people, slowly, but surely.

** This theme is furthered emphasised by Takaki’s description of his most recent relationship with a nameless girl. “We must of exchanged emails a thousand times, but I doubt our hearts got closer by even a centimeter.”

*** I love cyclical stories, it gives the impression that all the events were significant and that the story did follow an over arching plot. 5 Centimeters Per Second begins with Akari running across the train line whilst Takaki is held up on the opposing side, likewise the same scene is reenacted with the same characters but at a much older age. Originally, Akari waited for Takaki, their constant communication and their common interests meant that Takaki was important to her. Sadly, as the pair grew older and further apart, Akari chooses not to wait for Takaki anymore and unfortunately, he is no longer a part of her life. It was moments like this where the film really shone, Shinkai has the ability to embed so many emotions in such a simple action.

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