Satoshi Kon Dead at 46 After Battle With Pancreatic Cancer


Satoshi Kon suddenly died yesterday from pancreatic cancer.  Holy.....Wow.  This is a sudden and terrible shock.  Satoshi Kon was one of my favorite anime directors from the past decade.  He only directed four feature films, but each one was better than the last.  I especially enjoyed the way he confronted imagination and illusion, often in the form of popular culture, challenging our assertions of reality.  Millenium Actress and Paprika were brilliant in this regard.

I think my favorite Satoshi Kon movie is Tokyo Godfathers, thanks to the wonderfully touching and funny characters, the unique flair given to a John Ford/John Wayne classic, and the sharp willingness to peel back the illusions of modern Tokyo, to reveal the hidden suffering of the underclass.  I was lucky enough to see it on 35mm film at the University of Minnesota.  It played only for one weekend, and there were only a handful of attendees at the screening (where were all those anime fans?!), but I had a wonderful time and laughed myself silly.

I'm also a great fan of Kon's drawing style.  His characters have more rounded faces than standard anime fare, slightly more fleshy and weighted.  They feel more solid to my eyes, more natural and less caricatured.  It may be a surprise to you, but I'm really not a fan of most Japanese anime.  Too much character design is given over to huge saucer eyes and scrawny, spindly bodies that always seem fragile and lifeless.  I'm thinking of Ninja Scroll for some reason (ugh), but there are plenty of other examples.

Kon's skills are far more evident, and his realism reminds me greatly of Isao Takahata.  I've often wondered what would happen if the two collaborated together; indeed, Takahata appears lost without his right-hand man, Yoshifumi Kondo.  Wouldn't that have been fantastic?  A meeting of the minds - Tokyo Godfathers meets Taeko-chan, Paprika meets Anne Shirley.

This is such a terrible loss.  Who else in the anime world are we looking forward to?  I think Ben Ettinger is absolutely right: the man is irreplaceable.  No one else among the younger generation possesses his skills as an animator, a storyteller, a director.  No one else can match his razor sharp intellect.  In lesser hands, a film like Paprika would fly apart at the seams and turn into a hallucinatory mess.  Satoshi Kon always felt completely in control, and had a purpose, an agenda.  Here was an educated adult making movies for other educated adults, who just also happened to be an illustrator.

If Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have any peers in Japan, it's most definitely Satoshi Kon.  Now his voice and his mind are forever silenced.  He has fallen into what Terence McKenna called, "the black hole of biology."  This is a devestating loss for the animation and film world.

27 comments:

Gnickerson said...

I was shocked and saddened when I read this, an excellent filmmaker lost in his prime.

I've seen all of his movies, but the first I ever saw of his was "Millennium Actress" and it may remain my favorite. One thing about all Kon films is that they had great characters, be it the protagonists, supports or antagonists. He made them likable, sympathetic, relatable and filled them with depth and layers.

Thank you Satoshi Kon for the films you made, as they brought me great joy and I had a splendid time experiencing them.

Dominic said...

What a terrible shame.

After Miyazaki, Kon was the Japanese animator I most admired. Perfect Blue completely blew me away. He had such a hold on characterisation and shifting realities. He really communicated ideas about animation, filmmaking, social issues which such flair.

I have only seen his first three films, and I had been meaning to see his TV series and Paprika. Now i'll have to make the extra effort.

What a shock.

phatfish said...

This is very sad, i had no idea he was ill.

Tokyo Godfathers is great but i think Perfect Blue is his best.

Paranoia Agent is amazing too, i find most Anime series very hard going, but Paranoia Agent is perfect.

According to IMDB a new movie was in pre-production, we will never know what it was to be :/

Heromaster111 said...

Wow I am shocked this is unreal. I was really looking forward to that new movie of his. RIP to a great director

Heromaster111 said...

It cut off some of my post? Weird. Guess I'll type it again.

This lost will be felt by the anime industry. Honestly besides Anno and Miyazaki I can't think of another anime director who has a filmography that is, imo, as good/strong as Kon's. Truly a great lost.

chris said...

Really, really sad news. There's even an article on what Satoshi Kon said before he passed away...

http://makikoitoh.com/journal/satoshi-kons-last-words

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@hero: Your message was cut off? Weird. All I can do on my Blogger dashboard is approve or reject messages (needed to filter out spam). At least you're able to get your thoughts down on the second pass.

@chris: Thanks! This is an interesting article...

Gnickerson said...

@ Heromaster111

I think Mamoru Oshii films are definitely worth watching, although I still haven't seen "The Sky Crawlers" yet.

Now it's more about the "next generation" so to speak. Of course there is the Ghibli rookie Hiromasa Yonebayashi. But the one that sticks out the most to me is Mamoru Hosada. He did a wonderful job with "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" and his new film "Summer Wars" was met with heaps of praise in Japan. Both films won the "Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year." Mark Schilling of "The Japan Times" has actually called Hosada the future king of Japanese animated film.

Then there is Makoto Shinkai who is still raw as a filmmaker, but is able to create stories and characters that the viewer can relate to and feel for. His character animation is a little more plain, but his backgrounds and use of lighting are gorgeous.

Gnickerson said...

Another thing, has everybody here seen "Magnetic Rose" from the film "Memories"? If you haven't I highly recommend that you do. Satoshi Kon did not direct it but he did do the script for it. It's about 45 minutes long and is excellent.

The other two short stories in "Memories" are "Stink Bomb" and "Cannon Fodder", the latter of which is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Although all three stories are originally manga from Otomo.

Magnetic Rose is an absolute must see. I have the DVD, but they can all can be found on youtube.

James said...

WHAAATT??? Man, I'm shocked. In all honesty, I didn't see all his movies as flawless but loved his talent. He was definitely in the upper echelon of anime. I just now hope his final movie "Dream Machine" can be faithfully completed.

Heromaster111 said...

@Gnickerson

I like Ohsii as well but in terms of whose filmography is stronger I'd say Kon's is though Ohsii's is a lot bigger. But in the end only the 1st GitS movie is the only film of his I'd consider a masterpiece.

I can see me putting Hosada above Kon later but not now the man only has at this moment in time 2 really notable films, great films but still only 2. Madhouse had such a great one-two with Kon and Hosada on staff, another notable Madhouse director is Masaaki Yuasa, however he works primarily in the series format but Kon loved his film Mind Game, which I would also recommend to anyone who hasn't seen it.

Shinkai's stories kind of just come off of re-treading the same grounds, I'd at least like a little more diversity. I do agree though his films background art is amazing it's weird and a shame that his character designs are really pretty generic. I like Shinkai but to be honest he is slightly disappointing that he hasn't really progressed that far as a film-maker.

Gnickerson said...

@ Heromaster11

Agree on all points, except I actually liked "Innocence" more then the first GitS. I did enjoy the two Patlabor movies as well.

I wasn't trying to say that Hosada/Shinaki/etc. are at Kon's level, but rather we are entering/at a crossroads for the art form. I viewed Kon as the intermediary, the lead filmmaker who would the bridge the gap between generations. (e.g. Miyazaki/Takahata -> Hosada/Yonebayashi)

With Kon's passing, I think Hosada now will be looked at even more, possibly earlier then he should be.

I also recently read that Kon's film "Dream Machine" will still be completed and that his widow vowed it would be. I wonder how far along the film is and who they might bring in to finish it.

asuka said...

this is very sad news indeed.
i love kon's work. and i also know that he would have given us stuff as great, maybe greater, in the future. (had he lived long enough, i wonder if the high-concept material of paranoia agent, paprika, perfect blue would have come to seem a phase,and some quite different set of masterpieces along the stylish lines of tokyo godfathers would have emerged.)
a great loss.

Heromaster111 said...

@Gnickerson

I don't know Innocence just rubbed me the wrong way I like it but vastly prefer the 1st movie.

I know you weren't

There are other capable directors who bridge that gap in generation between Miyazaki/Takahata and Hosada/Shinkai. Hideaki Anno is probably the best and there is no doubt he is the most influential of his generation(Kon, Kawamori, etc)and imo is a better filmmaker than Kon, but then again Anno is my favorite director in general so take from that what you will.

Hosada has been in the industry for 10+ years now he is more than ready to take reins.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I saw Innocence at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis during its theatrical run years ago, and I loved it. I haven't seen the movie since then, so I don't know if my impressions would change. Perhaps the ponderous dialog would just get on my nerves. Perhaps I would prefer the original Ghost in the Shell. I am surprised that this film isn't remembered very well. Where do GitS fans place Innocence? I've always been curious about that.

What has Anno been up to lately? Whatever became of him? He certainly was an interesting character, but too inconsistent for my tastes. I still want to see his live-action movie that Toshio Suzuki helped to finance, though. Can't remember the name right now.

Depending on how far "Dream Machine" was along in its production, we will probably see something in the future. In his farewell letter, Satoshi Kon wrote that many aspects of the film project remained in his head, and he felt only he could understand it. I'm not sure how much was preserved. Will the project ever be finished? Who will be brought in to sit in the director's chair? And how much of Kon's original vision will be retained?

Questions, questions.

Oh, and a great shout-out to Masaaki Yuasa. He seems to be too "quirky" for Westerners. Ben Ettinger has been closely following his work ever since Mind Game, and to my mind, he's the only Westerner who's doing that. Why wasn't Mind Game ever brought to the West? Do anime fans even know about this movie? Very strange.

Heromaster111 said...

@Daniel

Anno is currently directing on the Rebuild of Evangelion movies working on #3 or 4 right now, first 2 were really good in case you're wondering I'd recommend them. Since Eva though he did another series with His and Her Cirumstances which was spectacular,however due to disagreements he left the project about 18 episodes in, there is a dropoff in quality sadly. I think you mean Shiki Jitsu(Ritual) if you are that's his best live action film and damn near perfect. Love&Pop is also good too and has a good message and social commentary. Cutie Honey however while fun is just too out there and really his biggest mistake. Also if would highly recommend his first series Gunbuster starts out as pretty blatant fanservice but after the 2nd episode you start getting classic Anno. Also I'm hoping someday I will in someway be able to see the short he did for the Ghibli Museum.

On Yuasa I've never heard much from the casual anime fan concerning Mind Game but he has an audience, as do his other works particularly The Tatami Galaxy which is nothing short of amazing.

asuka said...

anno is indeed a fertile mind. kare kano - oh my goodness! (i'm very eager to see the recentish result of animating sugar sugar rune, with which he had some involvement i gather, but who knows when we'll see it in the u.s.a...)

wasn't mind game released in australia?

sarkwalvein said...

@Heromaster111:

About Anno, could you please enlighten me about something good directed by Hideaki Anno besides the original Evangelion? I didn't have good luck watching some other of his works, but I would like to try again.

I really loved the way he directed the Evangelion series, the way he transmitted a lot with static scenes, and the subtlety that isn't characteristic of Gainax but was there in that series. The first movie were OK. But after that what he did to promote Studio Khara, those bastard cash-in Evangelion movies made me mad, that's not Evangelion, that's just a pure fanservice cash-in with characters and robots named the same way, all subtlety's gone, characters doesn't develop right, it's all messed up.

I also liked the first episodes of Karekano, it wasn't great but it showed again the characteristics I liked about his direction.

About other works, I didn't like Gunbuster, and I still have to watch Nadia. Also I still haven't watched any of his live action films.

Heromaster111 said...

@sarwalvein

You pretty much named everything he did in your post his filmography isn't that big.

I will agree about some of your complaints about Rebuild he did mess up some characters and i guess you could say the direction of the story is questionable , but it isn't without it's perks what Rebuild lacks in story and character development it makes up for with it's editing and cinematography, in this regard this is where Anno shines in general with most his works, which is it's strongest points. I've pretty much just decided Rebuild is it's own universe and keep it separated from the series/EoE. When you say first movie do you 1.0 or EoE? Sorry bout the confusion, if it is EoE you just thought it was ok?

Keep watching Kare Kano it gets better it keeps building it's momentum as the series goes along, and while a tad melodramatic the characterizations are good enough along with some awesome editing, frame compositions, pacing, and music.

What didn't you like about Gunbuster? Nadia has a LOT of elements in it that would be used in Evangelion you'd probably like it. Love&Pop and Ritual are his live action movies to watch.

If you want to see some things he has a hand in but didn't direct, as everyone knows the Giant Warrior falling apart in Nausicaa and the launch sequence in Wings of Honneamise are showcases of how great an animator the man is.

@asuka

I was aware he directed some episodes of Sugar Sugar Rune, and while there is an interest to see the episodes he directed. I don't know if the payoff is worth having to watch 50 episode magical girl show where he may direct only like 3-4 episodes.

And on Kon I found this vid on Youtube last nite

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jjR_t0ikoU

I'm guessing it was a commercial for NHK, though I don't know for sure.

asuka said...

i haven't read anything about the adaptation of sugar sugar rune, but the manga is rather wonderful, so one can only hope it's worth watching.

i'd like to know what more miyazaki fans think of nadia. (i see it as a train wreck with many fascinating properties that are well worth discussing! btw, i'm always amazed and saddened when i hear about anyone who didn't like gunbuster!)

Heromaster111 said...

Nadia becomes a train wreck because Anno left the project to write the ending and a diff staff did that whole island arc debacle, where characters are so OoC that it is sad, after he comes back it gets back on track and finishes strong

asuka said...

the end is very strong, true. but i think that from the very start there are problems (e.g. the non-comical comic villains), and some huge missed opportunities (e.g. just think how a miyazaki would have revelled in the steam-punky technology possibilities).

sarkwalvein said...

Thanks for the response, I was speaking about EoE, I meant it was good. (I just noticed 'OK' means so-so, that's not what I meant, lack of English skills)

About Gunbuster it turned out somewhat boring for me, but I watched it just once, maybe I wasn't in the right mood, I'll give it another chance.

Heromaster111 said...

@asuka

I see where your coming from and I agree somewhat, though I enjoyed it nonetheless. Nadia wasn't under Anno's complete control, iirc it was given to him by NHK, which may be the reason for some of the blunders. Under Miyazaki Nadia would have been better. Miyazaki is a much more talented story-teller who is able to get the most out of his stories/characters. Anno is better at the more technical aspects of directing(editing/cinematography). Both are great directors but Nadia would have definitely been better suited in Miyazaki's hands than Anno's.

@sarkwalvein

No problem man.

J.R.D.S. said...

"wasn't mind game released in australia?"

Yes, and France and Germany, possibly other countries as well. I tend to take it that when Americans say "West" they mean the "Wild" kind. There are English-subbed DVDs of the Genius Party films in Australia and New Zealand as well.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Aha! So Mind Game was released in the West after all. I wasn't aware of that. "The West" is kind of a goofy shorthand, now that I think of it. Where does Australia fit in? It's probably more of a relic of the Cold War than anything else.

And, as usual, the United States of Stupid is the last place to get anything. Oh, and maybe I should apologize in advance for the November elections. This country is about to put the George W. Bush Republicans back in charge. This pretty much guarantees that the planet is doomed. Sorry about that.

J.R.D.S. said...

I think you're forgetting the United Kingdom of staying at home watching worse-than-forgettable TV about either obese or anorexic people when there are Kenneth Anger and Jean Painlevé films to be seen from 16 mm in a luxuriant picture palace for just £3.50 or less (they had rented them from the BFI especially and there were about, maybe six or seven at most people in there). Or of vegetative state, if that's any measure of it. As for our own films – in Taiwan and France there are DVD collections of Joanna Quinn and Barry Purves' work given actual shop distribution throughout the country, they're appreciated that much; here there's just a few of theirs and others' on the BAA's DVDs that cost a full £20 and are only available direct and from a few places like the National Media Museum. But here it is more of a case of having some great things, some that Americans are jealous of, but the public being blinkered from noticing what hasn't caught in America before here.

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