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[Cannes ’21] ‘Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist’ review: Insightful look at anime legend

A nasty genuis.

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a look at one of the most influential names in animation. Not only did he inspire future artists, his work is felt in Hollywood. His career was a short one, but his impact is still felt today. The documentary is filled with interviews. From filmmakers Mamorou Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) and Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) to animators and philosophers, The Illusionist paints a picture of a person who is constantly creating. It is fascinating to see and then hear the aesthetics behind Kon’s thought process.

The Illusionist also takes apart the meaning behind the movies. Things start with an in-depth discussion of Perfect Blue. This includes comparisons to genre masters David Lynch and Dario Aregento. As the various interviewees discuss Kon, the audience can see his influence on others. It is refreshing to see genuine excitement instead of the lifeless platitudes often found in these types of films.

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Kon is also examined as a person. The high praise he was receiving for his work was not translating into box office success. For this reason, Kon was frustrated and had trouble finding financial backers. In one of The Illusionist’s most telling moments, a former coworker tells about the time Kon fired him for “bringing shame to the business (animation)”.

The film is not about digging up dirt or the most salacious details about Kon’s life, however. Though things can be a little scattershot at times, The Illusionist focuses on the impressive resume of the creator and manages to do so in a way that even those who are not fans of anime will be able to enjoy. Those who are familiar with Kon’s work will be captivated.

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