R. I. P. Satoshi Kon 今 敏 (1963 – 2010)

Posted by Grey Thursday, August 26, 2010

An immensely tragic moment in the Japanese animation world as Satoshi Kon (今 敏), one of the greatest anime director today, passed away on August 24th, 2010. The Daily Zombies mourn one of our favorite creators of today's pop culture.

His brilliance in animation film-making is unparalleled, with some of his visionary concepts predating even the much-talked-about film of the year, Inception. And we are talking about Satoshi Kon (今 敏), the undisputed master of anime-making, with his remarkably consistent filmography of great works surpassing even those of fellow greats like Mamoru Oshii (押井守)and the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿), of whom many critics had long commented on how Kon is the legitimate inheritor of his amazing legacy.

On August 24th 2010 at 620am (Japan time), Satoshi Kon has passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 46.

First tweeted by GAINAX's Yasuhiro Takeda in the early morning of August 25th, the tragic news were later confirmed by Madhouse's Masao Maruyama via the Otakon committee, followed by the official confirmation by Kon's personal website. The Daily Zombies pay tribute to one of the greatest creators of our time by taking an extensive retrospective look back at the illuminating career of Satoshi Kon.

Born in Hokkaido on October 12, 1963, Kon Musashino attended College of the Arts in Tokyo majoring in Visual Communication, with the intention of becoming a painter. As a student there, Kon made his debut as a manga comic artist in 1984 when he submitted his first manga project, 虜 -とりこ-, in the rookie competition held by Kodansha's Young Magazine. From there, Kon became a full-time manga artist in 1985 and continue his career after his graduation from the college in 1987. In 1990, Kon published his first serialized manga, 海歸線.

An ecological cautionary tale between a man and a mermaid, the manga shared a conspicuously similar tone with Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea ((崖の上のポニョ), while stripping any resemblance of a fairy tale-esque undertone (which makes one wonder about Kon's influence on Miyazaki), combined with artworks that reminisces the intricate layouts and style of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (安彦良和).

From there, Kon met Katsuhiro Otomo, fresh off his critically acclaimed anime masterpiece, Akira. Working on the manga adaptation of Otomo's 1991 live-action thriller, World Apartment Horror (國際恐怖公寓), Kon collaborated with fellow writers, Otomo himself, and the earlier mentioned Mamoru Oshii (押井守).

As the first display of the surreal, psychedelic style that will eventually become his hallmark feature, the manga series gained instant acclaim and has remained an iconic manga classic till now.

Following that, Kon officially entered the anime industry by working as set designer for Otomo's Roujin Z (老人Z).

Kon then made his screenwriting debut with "Magnetic Rose", a section of the anthology film, Kon made his screenwriting debut with "Magnetic Rose", a section of the anthology film, Otomo Katsuhiro's Memories, produced and co-directed by Otomo.

In 1997, Kon made his directorial debut with Perfect Blue, an animated psychological thriller film, a particular genre unprecedented of that time.

Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, the film was originally planned to be a live action direct-to-video series, but after the Kobe earthquake of 1995 damaged the production studio, the budget for the film was reduced to an original video animation. With Otomo credited as "Special Supervisor" as an obvious marketing scheme, the film was screened in many film festivals around the world, spreading words of acclaim worldwide, thereby jump-starting Kon's career as an innovative filmmaker.

With realistic characterization and its Hitchcockian psychological thriller presentation, audience of conventional anime were mesmerized by the film, with those from the west particularly intrigued. The film won numerous awards at the 1997 Fantasia Festival in Montréal, and Fantasporto Film Festival in Portugal. Accordingly, renowned director Darren Aronofsky (of Requiem For A Dream fame) has already paid for the rights for a live-action remake of Perfect Blue.

While everyone waited in equal exasperation and anticipation for Kon's next film, no one saw how his second feature film could surpassed his excellent debut. And yet it did.

Released in the same year as Hayao Miyazaki's all-time classic, Spirited Away, Kon's second feature film, Millenium Actress (千年女優), received the Grand Prize in the Japan Agency of Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival, tying with Spirited Away. The film went on to sweep many major film awards from international film festivals and was even promoted by its studio as a contender for the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, a contention which was eventually lost to Spirited Away, whom went on the win the honor.

Telling a story about a documentary filmmaker investigating the life of a reclusive, legendary actress, the film gradually got interwoven with the actress's incredible body of works, as reality and cinema became blurred, pushing the audience into Kon's familiar surreal territory. The film celebrated life and the movie world in particular, in a way unlike anything before it.
Heavily influenced by renowned Japanese novelist and science fiction author, Yasutaka Tsutsui (筒井 康隆), Kon's signature style of narrating through an subjective reality, spliced with a refined surrealism begun to truly shine with Millenium Actress.

Having created two films that transcend dreams and reality, Kon went on to work on a more linear and traditional story with his next film, Tokyo Godfathers (東京ゴッドファーザーズ).

A collaboration with Keiko Nobumoto, the creator of the Wolf's Rain series and a head scriptwriter for Cowboy Bebop, Tokyo Godfathers received an Excellence Prize at the 2003 Japan Media Arts Festival and went on to remained one of the most underrated anime film of our time. In essence, a road movie about three homeless bums, a hobo, a transvestite, and a runaway girl, the film explored the darker side of metropolitan Tokyo in a realistic yet humorous way.

Being Kon's only film to date that doesn't deal with subjective reality, the film juggled with contemporary themes of personal guilt, loss and suicidal ideation in a decidedly jovial and heartwarming manner that tugs at the heart and mind of any city dweller.

Sidestepping from his filmography, in 2004, Kon moved on to create, in my opinion, his greatest masterpiece, and without a doubt, one of the greatest anime series ever, Paranoia Agent (妄想代理人).

An unconventional psychological horror drama with more than a handful of satire on the absurd mundane life and social commentaries, Paranoia Agent is a disturbing trip into the dark heart of the civilization. Chronicling a social phenomenon that gradually evolved in a mass hysteria of an apocalyptic scale, the thirteen-part series played out the main ongoing mystery over a collective of short story interwoven into the mystery. In an ingenious method, each respective story evolved into distinctly different genres with characters switching the role of a supporting cast and a protagonist role. These insanely massive ideas were amazingly pulled off within a narrative frame of thirteen episodes. As Kon himself put it in his interview in 2004:

During the makings of my previous three films, a mountain of unused ideas for both stories and arrangements has piled up in my drawers. Not that I dropped them because they weren't good enough, but they just didn't fit into any of the projects. It hurts to see material go to waste, so I looked for a chance to recycle it. Plus, in the case of a film to be shown at theatres, I'm working for two years and a half, always in the same mood and with the same method. I wanted to do something that allows me to be more flexible, to realize instantly what flashes across my mind. I was also aiming at a sort of entertaining variation, so I decided to go for a TV series.

Continuing his theme of exploring the surrealistic life of the modern world and subversive realism, Paranoia Agent was intricately spliced with all the nitty bitty human experience that defined our existence. I can never forget the immensely mesmerizing episode 8, "Happy Family Planning" (明るい家族計画). A hauntingly disturbing yet thought-provoking tale on the delicate topic of suicide which earned a 1 minute 20 second mandatory cut made by the BBFC in its UK release. Remarkably resonant from start to finish, the episode ended with one hell of a killer bang, making it the single best episode of an anime series ever, in my humble opinion.

After the tremendous work on Paranoia Agent, Kon went on to work on, in more than one way, his dream project, Paprika, a feature-length film release to cinemas worldwide in 2007.

Amongst many other reasons, the opportunity to work with his inspiraion, the earlier mentioned science fiction author, Yasutaka Tsutsui (筒井 康隆). Based on Yasutaka Tsutsui's 1993 novel of the same name, Paprika follows the tale of a research psychologist who enter people's dreams to explore their unconscious thoughts, as a revolutionary new form of psychotherapy. While one might inclined to conclude that the plot synopsis I just mentioned is being conspicuously alike to the critically acclaimed Sci-Fi film, Inception, I believed that in some ways, the film played a precursor to the very same innovative rift on dream-travelling though there are very distinct difference between the two films. Nevertheless, that did not stop someone from splicing the two film into one (as embedded below).

With a dreamy concept as such, and Kon at helm, stunningly imaginative imagery ensues.

Similar to Millennium Actress, Paprika transcended planes of existences by constantly blurring the lines between the boundaries of reality and fantasy. And it would seemed most unfortunate for Paprika to be forever remembered as Kon's last work.

Except that it is not. While it would seemed that Kon is still riffing off the Inception route, his fifth and final film was entitled "The Dream Machine (Yume-Miru Kikai, 造梦机器)", and was originally scheduled to be released some time next year. In consistence to Kon's ever-evolving nature, the film would be his first work aimed at children after a series of what he himself has called "animations which adults can enjoy".

The plot synopsis from Kon in a 2008 interview with Anime News Network.

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.

While the untimely demise of Kon will undoubtedly affect the release of film to the extent that it might not make it for release after all, let's just hope that it will eventually make it for an official release.

With the popular status of anime and manga in worldwide pop culture as otaku and activities such as cosplay reaching phenomenal level across the planet, anime, despite its overarching reach, is still commonly dismissed as a juvenile pastime of a lower class of literature by many who are unfamiliar with the culture. And it is with true masters like Satoshi Kon, that there is always a reason why anime-watching folks have nothing to be ashamed of. Despite having only four films and one television series under his directing credits, each of his work has been truly inspiring and consistently compelling.

The Daily Zombies solemnly expressed our condolences to Satoshi Kon's immediate family for the loss of a true visionary of pop culture, and extend our gratitudes to Satoshi Kon for all the thought-provoking, mind-fucking entertainment that redefined the term entertainment.

In closing, we have embedded the mind-blowing opening sequence of Paranoia Agent, which in our opinion, the best opening sequence for an anime series, as a final tribute to Satoshi Kon.


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