On the 23rd of August 2010, the acclaimed anime director Satoshi Kon passed away. His tragically early passing at the age of just 46, has been felt the world over. The anime community, and the animation scene as a whole is in mourning for the loss of a visionary who was at the height of his career. Many fans (this one included) have felt this sudden and shocking loss personally even though they have never met the man in question. Although the biggest tragedy is for his family and friends left behind, it’s hard not to wonder what could have been, what other masterpieces he would have produced, five, ten or twenty years hence. To have such a unique and singular vision snuffed out is too much to take.
He left behind one last blog that was published on his website after his passing, and has been translated and circulated around the world. The result is a heartbreakingly sad goodbye and thank you to his fans, but show us a man who faced his final days with dignity and acceptance that the rest of us can only admire.
on was one of that most rare of beasts, an anime director whose output made waves outside anime fans, picking up acclaim in the wider world of animation and film. In the space of just four films he’d joined this very elite club, alongside only Miyazaki, Oshi and Otomo. His films played film festivals- Paprika received a standing ovation at Venice, and two of his films have been released by mainstream label, Sony Home Entertainment. His work also often featured coverage in mainstream publications, receiving rave reviews from the likes of The Guardian and Total Film.
Kon started out as a manga artist, later graduating to the animation industry. Before he made his directorial debut with Perfect Blue, he received credits for work on such well regarded films as Roujin Z, and Memories. Both these films were works involving Katsuhiro Otomo, who had been a major influence and mentor since his manga artist days. His visuals were always astounding, and clearly showed the influence of Otomo’s elaborate, exquisitely detailed artwork.
1997’s Perfect Blue was unlike any anime film that come before it, and many critics recognised the emerging of a new and exciting talent. A mind-bending and haunting psychological thriller, it demands repeat viewings and invited comparisons with the work of Hitchcock and Dario Argento. The darkest of his features, it was released on DVD by manga in the UK but criminally it is currently out of print.
2001’s Millennium Actress is a change of pace, but still features Kon’s favoured theme of the blurring of what is reality. It tells the story of the career and life of an actress, while also being a love letter to classic Japanese cinema. It is currently available from Manga on DVD.
2003’s Tokyo Godfathers is very much another change of direction. A story of three homeless people who find a baby at Christmas and decide to try and return it to it’s mother, it’s a warm, funny and moving yarn. It’s certainly lighter than his other works but it’s depiction of the hidden world of homeless shines a light on an often neglected problem. It’s available on DVD from Sony, although it’s a shame the disc lacks a dub that could have seen it reach a wider audience.
2006’s Paprika was his final completed film. Based on a novel of the same name it’s a sci-fi about a device that allows people to enter the dreams of others. This has recently invited comparison with Christopher Nolan’s Inception, but is a very different kettle of fish. Paprika has much more fun with the concept, making the most of it’s medium, to create weird and wonderful visions. It is available on DVD (and a stunning Blu-ray) from Sony.
Between films, Kon even turned his hand to television. The resulting work Paranoia Agent was as critically acclaimed as his theatrical work, perhaps even more so. Exploring modern Japan through characters loosely connected by a series of attacks, the 13 episode series is unlike any other anime series in memory. MVM have released the entire series on DVD in the UK.
At the time of his death Kon was working on another feature due for release in 2011. Usually translated as ‘The Dream Machine’ or ‘The Dreaming Machine’, it was yet another change in direction, being the first of his films suitable for a family audience. It is terribly sad we will never get to see Kon’s complete vision, although it will almost certainly be completed in some form. It’s what the director would have wanted, and hopefully it will be a fitting memorial to this irreplaceable artist.
Kon’s contributions to anime will never be forgotten. His career may have been tragically cut short, but in a short time he produced work of a quality most directors can only dream of.
I can think of no better way to end this article than to leave you with the final words of that final letter as written by the man himself.
‘With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen.
Well, I’ll be leaving now.’ Satoshi Kon