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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What will the legacy be of anime director Satoshi Kon?

Today’s question comes from reader Left_Wing_Fox, who wants to talk about Japanese anime director Satoshi Kon, who died this week from pancreatic cancer at the too-young age of 46. Hew few films include the wonderful Millennium Actress, the charming Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika, his most recent film, which Christopher Nolan has cited as one of the inspirations for Inception, according to Empire Online.

The New York Times, in its obituary for Kon, quotes Susan J. Napier, anime expert and a professor of Japanese studies at Tufts University:

“He was part of a line of great Japanese humanist directors and writers”… In a telephone interview Wednesday, she linked Mr. Kon with Kurosawa, the great animator Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke”) and the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe.

Mr. Kon, she said, combined their characteristic social and ethical concerns — including sympathy for outsiders and a belief in the redemptive power of love — with a mischievous and wildly inventive visual style.

And Kon himself had some final words for the world, which his wife has posted at his blog; it’s in Japanes, but a fan has translated it here. It’s long and heartbreaking about lots of personal stuff. And then he gets to his work, particularly the film that remained unfinished at his death:

My biggest regret is the film “Dreaming Machine”. I’m worried not only about the film itself, but the staff who I was able to work with on the film. After all, there’s a strong possiblity that the storyboards that were created by (our) blood, sweat and tears will never be seen. This is because Satoshi Kon put his arms around the original story, the script, the characters and the settings, the sketches, the music…every single image. Of course there are things that I shared with the animation director, the art director and other staff, but basically most of the work can only be understood by Satoshi Kon. It’s easy to say that it was my fault for arranging things this way, but from my point of view I made every effort to share my vision with others. However, in my current state I can only feel deep remorse for my inadequacies in these areas. I am really sorry to all of the staff. However, I want them to understand, if only a little bit. Satoshi Kon was “that kind of guy”, and, that’s why he was able to make rather weird anime that was a bit different. I know this is a selfish excuse, but think of my cancer and please forgive me.

Damn. Damn in about twelve different ways.

What will the legacy be of anime director Satoshi Kon? Will anyone finish that last film? Should anyone finish it?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • I_Sell_Books

    What a heartbreaking post. But, y’know, I hope I have time to write something like that before I die.

    I didn’t care for Milennium Actress all that much (although I loved the end line), loved Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers.

    As for his legacy…wow. I think his stature will only grow with time – I certainly hope it does.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Personally, I hope we continue to see more films that are willing to probe the psychology of characters in interesting and dynamic ways, even if they risk not making total sense all the time. When we were talking about Inception, Kon’s work was definitely the standard of surreality I was hoping for.

    One other work that hasn’t been mentioned a lot is his 13-episode TV series “Paranoia Agent”. I might be biased in favor of this show because of a deliciously dark take on the animation industry in episode 10, or what is one of the creepier openings of any tv series;


  • I have no idea what exactly his legacy will be, but I certainly hope that his consistency of excellence will be an inspiration to filmmakers working both in animation and live-action formats, from Japan, and around the world for a good, long time to come. Having just seen Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue for the first time about a month and a half ago, the suddenness of this loss feels even more surreal. I think the greatest tribute to his impact, whatever it may be, will be if a phrase like “Kon-esque” becomes part of the standard lexicon for film discussion. I bless any filmmaker whose work invigorates my commitment to digging further into cinema, and Kon was one of those filmmaker.

  • What’s sad is that outside of the anime geeks, few people would recognize the name much less recognize the work.

    What’s amazing about Satoshi is that he didn’t work within the standard genres of anime – not mecha, not space battles, not magical girl, nothing one would consider “for kids” – but that he worked within more ‘credentialed’ genres like science fiction/fantasy (the hardcore, philosophical stuff) and adult thrillers. He’s not going to be known for blow-em-up stuff like Gundam or kiddie stuff like Pokemon, but mind-blowing stuff like Paprika and Paranoia Agent and mature stuff like Tokyo Godfathers and Perfect Blue.

  • Satoshi Kon Fan

    Hopefully in time more people will learn about his movies, which were truly great. I love how he never really stuck to one genre either. For example, Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers are two totally different types of movies, and both were good movies too xD

    R.I.P Satoshi Kon, You will be missed man.

  • Jan Willem

    A couple of weeks ago I happened to pick up a Paprika DVD for next to nothing at my wonderful local thrift shop. I vaguely recalled reading good things about it. I enjoyed it a lot, although it did have that weird, slightly out-of-my-reach, over-cerebral anime quality about it. I can’t seem to fathom the Japanese mentality somehow, I suppose it’s my loss. Still, I was sorry to hear its gifted director passed away while there was a work in progress.

  • amanohyo

    Wow, I had no idea he was even ill. I just saw him speak at the Cherry Blossom festival showing of Paprika in DC a few years ago. He seemed like a kind, humble, hard working man. This is somewhat typical for Japanese, but he spent a lot of time pointing out the flaws in the movie and apologizing for them.

    Perfect Blue can stand toe to toe with many of my favorite live action movies, Millennium Actress and Magnetic Rose are both decent too, and I love the opening to Paranoia Agents. The rest of his films are not as memorable or interesting, and they recycle themes he had already explored in previous works (with the exception of the cute and fluffy Tokyo Godfathers), but they’re certainly far above average for anime.

    I’m sure Perfect Blue (the original, not the awful dub) has what it takes to stand the test of time. The rest of his stuff will be forgotten by everyone but a few film buffs and old school otaku. The attention to detail in the animation of his movies will also be remembered and studied and his studio, Madhouse, will continue to have an impact on the industry.

  • vucubcaquix

    I was wondering if or when you’d mention something.

    He was one of the few big names that made big creative films that don’t pander completely to the “otaku” (obsessive japanese fan)base. His work was noticeably free of the concept of “moé” or “moéru” (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=moe), which many modern American and Japanese anime fans believe is contributing to the overall decline of the animation industry, because it is increasingly appealing to a select, dedicated hardcore fanbase with very little room for others. I mean, I watch the otaku stuff sure, but it’s not the most nourishing of things to consume and I definitely don’t share with others the majority of shows that I watch.

    It was different with Kon, each of his works was so wildly different and well executed that I had no reservation recommending them to others. Perfect Blue was a psychological thriller, Millennium Actress was historical drama romance, Tokyo Godfathers was a sentimental comedy set during Christmas, and Paprika is just flat one of my favorite films.

    For being so relatively young, his influence reached very far. Darren Aronofsky bought the exclusive rights to Perfect Blue so that he could copy one scene from it (the underwater screaming bathtub scene), and his upcoming Black Swan movie is just dripping with homage to Perfect Blue (it’ll probably be the closest thing to a live-action remake that we’ll see, and that he always wanted to make). And as you’ve mentioned, Christopher Nolan has also made no secret of the fact that Paprika was used as a reference to flesh out Ellen Page’s character, a “dream architect”, in Inception.

    The blogs I frequent have all dedicated heartwarming posts in remembrance to the man, because he was regarded in anime circles as a man who was about to embark on a tremendous career. He was just starting out, and you can still that there was a wellspring of creativity that was waiting to burst forth. For example, Paranoia Agent, his animated one cour series, was pieced together from leftover ideas and themes that didn’t quite fit into his previous movies. Can you imagine that?!

    I figure I’d compile some links here to individuals who can better express their grief and appreciation than I:







    Even 4chan, the unbridled and profane id of the youth on the internet, had a very visceral reaction to his passing even by 4chan’s own standards. From the moment that the first tweets popped up that circulated the rumor of his death, a thread was put up in response. An average thread on the anime board on 4chan will receive a dozen or so replies, with very popular threads occasionally reaching a hundred. This thread hit more than two thousand replies (replies with the red garbage can were either deleted or wiped by moderators):


    If you can get past the initial bewildered replies and the kneejerk troll posts, there was some fascinating discussion on the difference in production methods between live action and animated films and how we may yet see the release of his latest film, Yume-Miru Kikai, because Masao Maruyama, a producer for the animation studio MADHOUSE and a close friend of Kon’s promised that he would do everything in his power to release it with Kon’s vision still attached. There was also a live translating session of his last statement that the blogger you posted may or may not have participated in, we can’t know because everyone is anonymous.

    But yeah, a few days on, I still has a sad.

  • vucubcaquix

    I don’t know how I forgot to link this one as well, the tab was opened at the same time too:


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