In Memoriam: Satoshi Kon
On Tuesday, 24th August 2010, the Japanese animation director Satoshi Kon sadly lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. Considered one of the most visionary and original minds in any visual media, his work has been hugely influential in many areas and his desire to continue pushing the boundaries of animation, not simply in terms of techniques and technologies but also the content of each tale, gained him immense popularity and critical acclaim.
Satoshi Kon was born on the 12th October 1963 in Hokkaido, one of Japan’s northern islands. Following his graduation from high school he went on to study visual communication design as Musashino College of the Arts in Tokyo, and there he began his early career as a manga artist. Upon leaving, he continued to struggle as a manga artist until he began helping one of his idols, the legendary Katsuhiro Otomo, on the story World Apartment Horror.
Kon’s first animation credit came drawing backgrounds on the Otomo’s darkly comic morality tale Roujin Z, and scored a second credit as a writer for Magnetic Rose, one of the episodes in Otomo’s Memories anthology. It was during this time that Kon cut his teeth with anime as a medium, and following Otomo’s recommendation, he was chosen to direct the graphic psychological horror Perfect Blue.
Much of Kon’s early work is heavily influenced by his association with Otomo, however Perfect Blue changed everything, and following the success of the movie he went on redefine the boundaries of what many consider the realm of children. His lyrical style is on display in his second movie Millennium Actress, which went on to win a number of awards, however the movie was a clear departure from Perfect Blue in almost every respect.
Kon again went in a totally new direction with his third feature, Tokyo Godfathers, and although the movie was clearly influenced by John Ford’s western 3 Godfathers, there’s an inherent playfulness to proceedings that is very much in the style of Frank Capra.
In 2004, Kon decided to take his fans and the medium in a totally new direction with his TV series Paranoia Agent, which has been likened to Twin Peaks and The X Files because of its reality twisting story and visuals. That said, the story is also a very clear social commentary, especially as it was released after a wave of much publicised youth crimes across Japan.
Satoshi Kon’s most famous film, Paprika, received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival for both its stunning visuals and its captivating story. The critically acclaimed movie delved into the world of dreams and dreaming, and influenced Chris Nolan’s 2010 movie Inception.
The director’s final feature, Yume-Miru Kikai, remains unfinished due to his untimely death. Ostensibly the tale is aimed at all ages and features an all robot cast. In an interview with Anime News Network, Kon said of the project:
“The title will be Yume-Miru Kikai. In English, it will be The Dream Machine. On the surface, it’s going to be a fantasy-adventure targeted at younger audiences. However, it will also be a film that people who have seen our films up to this point will be able to enjoy. So it will be an adventure that even older audiences can appreciate. There will be no human characters in the film; only robots. It’ll be like a “road movie” for robots.”
Fans of the acclaimed director can only hope that the film will be completed by Madhouse, however as a fan of Satoshi Kon I can honestly say that no matter how good The Dream Machine is, it will never be as good as if he had finished it with his own hands. For me, like so many others, there will always be something missing, a presence if you will, that permeates all his other works.
It is with sadness that we bid a great man goodbye, and though we may never see his like again, we are left with a rich and vibrant legacy that will continue to influence and inspire new talents throughout the world. We are aided in our appreciation of his skill, his love for his chosen medium, and his humanity by his online notebook, a section of which has been kindly translated by Makiko Itoh in her online journal.
And from this old and slightly jaded anime fan, thank you, for giving the anime world some of its most stunning and captivating tales.
For all of those fans who may read this and wish to know more about Satoshi Kon and his work, I’ve provided some links below that may help.
Satoshi Kon’s online notebook – Note that this site is in Japanese.
Makiko Itoh’s translation of Satoshi Kon’s final notebook entry – All fans of the director and his works should read this.