IS Satoshi Kon Superior to Hayao Miyazaki?

Every now and then I traverse the internet to curb my boredom. After all, even with a busy schedule and a steady job, I have way too free time on my hands. Perusing for content keeps me occupied, but it also leads to interesting videos and articles that are worth a response or elaboration. Case in point:

Courtesy of MrAJcosplay.

There’s a lot to talk about, but I’ll use this instead as a jumping point for another question that’s been on my mind for year: is the late-Satoshi Kon a better artist than Hayao Miyazaki?

I know where I stand on this personally: no. His work is interesting, no doubt, but it’s never resonated with me in the same way. Kon was a surrealist, a blender of the conscious with the subconscious, and it shows in his work. However, the core of his films, for the most part, are hollow, relying too heavily on surrealism instead of actual engagement. The end result is usually interesting, yet not terribly investing.

But that’s me. I know that the fervour for Kon is prevalent in the anime community, such that people frequently insist that he was “the greatest” and that other directors will “never achieve his status”. It’s only gotten stronger since his passing, and it’s even been brought up a few times in conversations. Therefore, projecting my personal bias on the man’s body of work is bound to go on deaf ears. If you want my full thoughts in a nutshell, here’s an attached snippet from an old and rough rant that never ended up being finished:
“For the longest time ever, I thought there was something wrong with me for not appreciating his work, something that I was missing for not attaching to his work. Considering how his films are so frequently described as “layered eye candy” by fans, you’d think that I’d be able to attach to that; after all, I love art. I love looking at abstract art in museums, as it leads itself open to plenty of interpretation. But I have my limits, and like how a Jackson Pollock work strikes me as nothing more than meaningless splotches on a white board, so to do I find imagery for the sake of imagery tiresome and meaningless. It’s the primary reason, after all, why Lewis Carroll never spoke to me as an author.

But then, after many years of revisions and thought, it hit me: there was nothing wrong with me as a person for not loving Satoshi Kon’s work.”
I still (mostly) hold this to be true.

Anyway, to fully-understand why I don’t think it’s fair to call one superior to the other, we first have to look at what makes them both similar and unique. For one, both explore aspects of the human condition. Both use protagonists as inserts for ideas they want to express about the world. Both are particularly fond of women, and use them frequently to subtly comment on male-centric worlds. And both make excellent uses of animation fluidity and style to create a unique imprint.

That’s where the similarities begin and end. The rest is completely different: where as Satoshi Kon is interested in how the human condition connects psychologically to the rest of the world, Hayao Miyazaki is interested in how the human condition connects emotionally to the rest of the world. Where as Kon is about the here and now, Miyazaki is interested in the past and future. Where as Kon focuses on adults, Miyazaki is big on youth. Even their art-styles and approaches to film are different, with the former fitting surrealism into a three-act narrative and the latter using minimalist dialogue amidst an atmospheric backdrop.

And this is probably why the claims bother me. It’s like saying that a rump roast is better than a fruit salad. One isn’t automatically superior to the other, they serve completely different purposes. Kon and Miyazaki couldn’t be any more distinct, so why compare such drastically different directors in attempt to prove that one is “better”? You’d have a better time comparing Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda, something which, by the way, is also disingenuous.

On that note, it irks me when people demand that the void for Satoshi Kon be filled. Miyazaki, they argue, has plenty of talents catering to his niche, so why not the master of surrealism? To that, I have two responses. Superficially, there’s Darren Aronofsky and his Hollywood thrillers, many of which resemble and are somewhat inspired by Kon’s work. It’s not quite the same, but he’s definitely an outpost.

Realistically, however, I don’t think his void should be filled. Kon was a man in his own league, directing at a time where his style could’ve actually worked. He won over fans because he did what no one else had done before him. Visceral isn’t so unfamiliar these days, so filling that void is unnecessary.

Besides, Kon and Miyazaki have influenced anime in their own ways. Miyazaki helped the medium become more mainstream, while Kon helped make it feel more adult. And both have made excellent bodies of work respectively, so while others might disagree, it’s not even worth the comparison and use of bodies of work to justify superiority claims…

…And especially with Perfect Blue. That film kinda sucks.


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