It may or may not be apparent in reading my blog but there are very few things that have the power to make me genuinely happy to be alive.
That is not some confession of crippling depression on my part but a statement of fact — life, in general, is not something I have very strong feelings about. Existence, as such, simply is. DFW has that thing about the fish in the water — this is water, this is water, this is water — and he’s right when he says you have to make a concerted effort to realize, at every single moment of your life, that not only do you exist, but you are surrounded by other people that exist, and this in and of itself is pretty damn amazing.
Sometimes there are artists who help me realize this. They are the ones who affect me the most strongly, the ones I feel the most affection for. Shakespeare is one of them. Satoshi Kon is another.
I am not saying Kon was Shakespeare’s equal or anything, but that for me, at least, he was a remarkably important storyteller. When I heard he died today, I was upset — about as upset as you can be about the death of a person whom you’ve never met and can’t really make any sort of personal judgment on. I didn’t cry or weep or anything, but I was disheartened in knowing that one of the few bright lights in the pantheon of pop culture I constantly ingest had gone out.
Kon liked fantasy. He liked showing us how cool fantasy could be, but also how dangerous — how our fantasies can consume us. When I was in high school, for various personal reasons, this became a very important idea to me. For other reasons it still is, because I deal in fantasy. I study fantasy for a living, in a sense, and my eventual desire is to teach it to others. And our fantasies, the little stories we tell ourselves, can have incredibly important impacts on what constitutes real life. Kon helped me realize this, and he helped me realize it without being some sort of materialist reactionary.
He knew, I think, that fantasies can be dangerous, but they are also humanizing. His film Tokyo Godfathers is one of my favorites, and probably near the top on my list of “things that are important to me as a human being.” I watch it every Christmas. While it’s his least fantastical movie, I think it’s his best, because it’s the one where I think you see the painful beating heart of Kon’s humanism most clearly. The fantasies of the characters are harmful, yes, but they’re also how they survive — and in the end the theme of the film seems to be an urge to be discriminating about our fantasies, to be critical of them, and to choose not the ones that simply make our pains and fears and jealousies go away, but the ones that tell us that everyone is subject to pains and fears and jealousies, and that it is only by reckoning our own existence and the existence of others with these inevitable disappointments that we can be healthy people.
We need fantasies that remind us, in DFW’s terms, that this is water. We need fantasies that help us understand what it is to be alive. We need fantasies that help us understand the connections we make with each other, and the kind of existence this fashions for us. We need fantasies that help us understand the world, not hide from it.
There are very few things that make me genuinely happy to be alive. Satoshi Kon’s films are one of those things.