Very sad news out of Japan yesterday as it was confirmed that visionary director Satoshi Kon had indeed passed away, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 46.
Kon began his career as a manga artist, working with Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo. He wrote a section of Otomo’s anthology film Memories entitled “Magnetic Rose” and in 1997 he made his directorial debut with Perfect Blue. This was followed by Millennium Actress in 2001, Tokyo Godfathers in 2003, the television show Paranoia Agent in 2004 (featured previously on Coilhouse), and finally Paprika in 2006. At the time of his death he was working on the film The Dream Machine which may be released posthumously.
Kon’s oeuvre was singular among Japanese filmmakers, directing feature length animated films (itself an increasingly rare occurrence in the Japanese movie industry aside from the likes of Studio Ghibli) that dealt in psychological suspense. His films were character studies — meditations on the mental state of his protagonists and, with the exception of Tokyo Godafathers, the effect of these states on reality. From the antagonistic doppelganger of Perfect Blue to the boy with the golden bat known as Lil’ Slugger in Paranoia Agent Kon’s protagonists project their neurosis onto their world. In the case of the films of Millennium Actress and Paprika‘s dreamscapes, the divide is even further deconstructed as the inner lives spill out into the world, allowing them complete control of an ersatz reality of their own creation.
It always struck me that Kon’s films did not require animation, but used the medium to great effect; more animated Hitchcock than anything. The exception may have Paprika. No doubt it would have lost much of the colorful madness that made its version of dreams so much more interesting than the dull, solemn gray backdrops of Christopher Nolan’s recent foray into REM sleep. In that regard it may have been a sign as to how far into the psyche he was looking to delve, perhaps abandoning reality altogether.
It’s too bad, then, that we may never find out. Satoshi Kon was a brilliant artist, taken much to soon. He leaves behind a small but stunning portfolio of work and it’s staggering to think of what he would have eventually been able to achieve, having already done so much in such a short span of time. In a final post on his website in his behalf (archived here, as the original has been brought to its knees by an influx of traffic, and a full English translation here) Kon recounts his memories of receiving his original diagnosis and the months following it, finally ending simply and poignantly:
With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen.
Well, I’ll be leaving now.