Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon
In this collection of short stories by the late Satoshi Kon, an old woman goes on a fantastic adventure, boys plot to lose their virginity, and a would-be car thief ends up saving someone he never expected to, along with other adventures. They may seem ordinary, but each story has its own extraordinary, dreamlike quality in this impressive tome.
Paprika. Tokyo Godfathers. Millenium Actress. Memories. Whatever you know Satoshi Kon's work from, chances are you know his films, and while that was his primary creative medium, he also penned manga which shares the same slightly surreal qualities as his animated works. Dream Fossil is a collection of the short stories he wrote in the 1980s, and while some of the tales are clearly early efforts and lack the dreamlike state of his later fiction, you can still easily see the seeds of the storyteller he would become. Ranging from 1984 to 1989, Kon's short stories take the everyday and make it into something somehow more interesting than you expect it to be.
The strongest pieces out of the fifteen tend to be those written in 1987-88, although his debut two-parter, “Toriko: Prisoner” is haunting in a way that mimics his work on the short film Magnetic Rose from the Memories anthology. The real stand-outs are “Kidnappers,” “Guests,” and “Beyond the Sun,” all of which appear in the middle of the book. “Guests” is the most obviously supernatural story, focusing on a family of four who have just moved into a new house. They can't believe that they were able to buy such a nice house so cheaply, and quickly find out that it is because their new home is built on the path ghosts take to the afterlife. While it has less to really say about people or society than some of the other stories, it has a deft touch with both the sense of humor and horror aspects, making it a good showcase for Kon's versatility. “Kidnappers,” meanwhile, is a redemption story hiding inside an action comedy. It follows a young man who sees what he thinks is the perfect opportunity to steal a minivan left running with the keys in it only to discover that its owner is a kidnapper making a ransom call at the pay phone, and he is now the owner of not just a car, but also a kidnapped child named Jun. He frantically tries to return Jun home without letting the police know because he's afraid of being labeled a kidnapper as well, and the result is a comedy of errors filled with car chases, cute kid moments, and the slow evolution of the unwitting kidnapper.
What I felt was the strongest story (barring “Toriko”) is “Beyond the Sun.” The protagonist is an old woman in a nursing home or hospital whose family has just finished a duty visit. After they leave to take their two girls to the beach, the nurse begins to wheel her bed to a new wing of the facility. Somehow the brakes unlock, sending the woman careening off on a madcap ride through town. In a way it is a version of the folktale about the magic goose to whom everyone sticks in a crazy chain as more and more people pursue the woman on her hospital bed. The humor is undeniable, but what is more wonderful is the way her face slowly transforms from unaware to scared to joyous as the ride goes on. It makes us think about the way we treat the elderly, how oftentimes people forget that they still want to enjoy life and have adventures, and how just a little fun can really change someone's outlook, as we see in the final panel of the story.
This sort of thematic element is present in almost all of the tales in the book, with “Toriko: Prisoner” being the most chilling in its presentation of a dystopic future where rebellious children must be “corrected.” There is some excellent misdirection at play here, and the same sense of emptiness that I at least experienced at the end of Millenium Actress – a questioning of what everything was for in terms of the action of the story. It is in many ways the exact opposite of “Beyond the Sun,” and it is interesting that Kon revisited the same theme in such a different way later in his life.
Not all of the stories are as strong, unfortunately, and the two war tales, “Waira” and “Desert Dolphin,” felt the most oblique. The stories about everyday schoolboy life, which make up the bulk of the collection, require some thought and re-reading to really see what Kon is getting at, but there is an appealing grittiness to the stories and the art that is far removed from the kind of shounen antics we see more frequently in English translated manga. Kon's art is generally clean and clear, and the one story in full color, “Picnic,” is particularly beautiful. Unfortunately the originals for two of the stories have been lost and Vertical had to rely on the printed magazine versions for their translation. You can tell, as the art isn't as clear and has some noise in the blacks and grays; this, however, is not Vertical's fault and should by no means deter you from reading the book.
Reading these stories is like coming to understand where Kon's later work comes from, at least in part. Composer and musician Susumu Hirasawa talks about Kon in an afterward, and he says that there is a “loving unkindness” about his films. That phrase holds true for the stories as well – kindness hidden beneath cruelty and vice versa gives them an edge that you aren't always expecting, but makes them more than they at first appear to be.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Many strong stories, with several standing out as especially good. Attractive, easy to read art. Good for those who are looking for something less mainstream.
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