August 24th marked the 9th anniversary of Kon Satoshi’s untimely death from pancreatic cancer. The world of cinema lost one of its greatest and most unique visionaries that day. Note that I intentionally do not relegate him to the moniker of “animation director”. Kon was a cinematic storyteller who happened to choose the medium of animation to tell his stories. I will even go as far to say he was one of the world’s best independent filmmakers specfically because his work emobodies the bold, unique, risk-taking, singular voice filmmaking often championed by Sundance and other independent film organizations. The framework of any of his movies or series translate just as well in live-action and his visual language is certainly informed by live-action filmmaking; as opposed to anime directing which pervades much of what those products are created to do.
My first exposure to Kon was the Magnetic Rose section of Otomo Katsuhiro’s animated omnibus Memories. The humanistic themes he unfolded through exquisite direction left an indelible impression, even greater than the namesake of the omnibus who up until then seemed to be the pinnacle of animated film direction, and whose Cannon Fodder episode was great but somehow paled in comparison. Because of this, I was ready and eager to see Kon’s feature-length debut Perfect Blue; needless to say the movie needs no further introduction. I then worked hard to secure screenings of his third movie Tokyo Godfathers at the San Diego Asian Film Festival when I was the international film programmer there. For some reason his sophomore feature, Millennium Actress, slipped under the radar or had not been well-known abroad enough to have English subtitled prints available, but I secured a copy of the DVD on a trip to Japan and thankfully was able to view this bittersweet, sublime ode to cinema.
I was excited when he announced a TV series, Paranoia Agent, but ironically living in Japan made it difficult to view (life does get in the way often) and I have yet to see his last completed directorial feature Paprika. But I will some day. But not having done so has not lessened in the least my admiration for this incredible auteur whose works tackled issues and taboos in Japanese society and culture (pop or otherwise) through unique examinations of human nature. Moreover, he had a clear understanding of the genres his movies occupied and was able to distort them through the medium of animation, freeing him to be visually unorthodox while still maintaining a high degree of thematic realism.
It is a shame the movie he was working on at the time he passed away, The Dream Machine, still remains unfinished. Production company Madhouse had pledged to complete it “no matter what” but later stated they did not have enough money. I see this as an unreasonable excuse as his legions of fans around the world would gladly crowdfund its completion if Madhouse had the forethought and collaborative mindset to do so. As recently as 2018, the founder of Madhouse stated production has been halted “indefinitely” as there are “no directors in the Japanese animation industry that could match Kon’s level of ability.” (from an article posted on Crunchyroll which is now deleted). My obvious answer to that statement is “cast a wider net”. Limiting the talent search to just Japan seems too single-minded, but absolutely expected from the local industry. For these reasons, Kon’s final story may never see the light of day.
Kon Satoshi remains one of my all time favorite filmmakers. If you are not familiar with Kon’s work, I would certainly encourage you to begin from the start and work your way chronologically through his filmography. I am hoping the 10th anniversary of his passing will prompt retrospectives to be held across film festivals throughout the world. If such information should come to light, I will be sure to share them on Indievisual’s social media.