Exclusive Interview with Satoshi Kon
My interview with Satoshi Kon was not under ideal circumstances. The translator Lincoln Center provided had a bad case of nerves that day, I was also understandably a bit nervous, my tape recorder conked out on me a few minutes into the interview and I of course did not get to ask all the questions I had prepared for Mr. Kon.
However, the folks at the Manhattan Bureau were kind enough to provide me with a DVD of my interview with Mr. Kon. After watching it, I really don’t that the world is ready for me to upload it into the Twitch Video Player. Trust me on this one; no way is this video seeing the light of day on my watch.
All in all though, when Kon did get to my questions, his answers were what I expected and in a very good way. He was very practical and intelligent in trying to describe his influences, his creative process and his fascination with dreams and that’s really all I could’ve hoped for. Below is a transcription of my interview with Kon, conducted on June 27th.
Simon Abrams: Your earliest successes were in manga with titles like Opus and Kaikisen. What experiences or lessons do you think you’ve retained from those projects or your work in manga in general?
Satoshi Kon: I learned some basic ideas that were critical for later on when I became an animator, like how to create story lines, developing characters and designing backgrounds. In manga, there’s no movement, no color, no sound. Everything from those projects were very helpful to my work as an animator later.
How do you think your early work with Katushiro Otomo or Mamoru Oshii has affected your style if at all?
I think Mr. Otomo was a big influence on my basic concepts, but I don’t feel that there’s that much influence from Mr. Oshii. Mr. Otomo was a big influence, especially in his concrete general approach to drawing anime. I feel I was very influenced by Mr. Otomo.
What is working with your own studio of artists (Studio Madhouse) like compared to when you worked as a freelancer for a studio?
There’s a big difference. A manga artist is basically an individual’s production. I’m in charge of everything, from concept to development. Working in a studio, you’re working with other staff members’ work, something I cannot always control.
Could how you developed your ideas for a project like Paprika, for instance?
Well, the most important thing is not to set a goal. I understand that the orthodox method would be to first create a concept and then focus on achieving that thing. I don’t work that way. As you go along, my goal keeps changing. If you’re just going to plan out what you’re going to be doing when, you’re going to get stuck.
That’s not really a concrete approach, but in terms of a project like Paprika, that was my approach. The production time we were given was two years and over that time, the characters developed.
So what came first, the story or the characters?
The story and then we developed the characters later.
Is that typical of your films or is that an approach you took just for Paprika?
That’s normally how I create projects, yes.
And how long would you say it takes to get from that initial story to the characters that we’ll see on screen?
When it comes to creating my characters it takes about six months to one year, but less than one year on the average. If you were to compare Paprika to Tokyo Godfathers, you’d see that the story was already created for Paprika so it took less time as opposed to Tokyo Godfathers, which is original.
What do you think attracts you to dreams and nightmares in your stories?
I don’t base my stories on dreams that I’ve had but for Paprika, some of the ideas came to me and I incorporated some of them. In a dream you have at night, the story…well, most of them are illogical. That I incorporate into my productions.
Is there something about dreams that appeals to? You return to them over and over again in your films.
Well, one time, one particular idea of mine was used in my work. If I overdid it, I think the audience would tire of it.
What role do you imagine the subconscious plays in films like Paprika or Paranoia Agent? Is it a benign presence or is it simply indifferent to us?
I think the sub-conscious, because it’s the sub-conscious, cannot be controlled by us. The dreamer doesn’t control everything but it doesn’t control us 100% either. That dark borderline, the vagueness of it is very interesting and I think I reflect that (interest) in my work.
In your opinion, how alike are films and dreams?
There is a similarity between dreams and films, for sure. The dream is uncontrollable, an uncontrollable drama. The movie, in a way, has to be controlled, because the budget is set, the staff is working and we have a deadline to create it all. Still, I want my movies to be inspired by dreams in that it has that same vital power, which is uncontrollable. In a way, it’s a creative force.
Would you say then that the viewers of your films are passive like dreamers watching a dream?
It’s all up to the audience. Even though one film exists, everyone sees it differently, different aspects. A person with a recurring dream is unlikely to see that same dream the same way over and over again. The viewer’s feelings and background varies and so as time goes by, one viewer may see that movie differently.
What recurring stories, dreams, films or filmmakers are you continually drawn to?
What I think I’m drawn to is the idea of how in dreams part of one’s self is separated from you. For instance, in Perfect Blue, another self, or Paprika, how Atsuko is a completely different character from Paprika, or Shonen Bat in Paranoia Agent. That conflict in people, to let it fight in an individual comes to me over and over, if I think about it.