Saturday, 11 September 2010

Satoshi Kon: Belated Farewell

Not too long ago, I saw a film called "Inception". I liked it. Then I heard a lot of talk about how it had ripped off a little-known anime movie called "Paprika". I thought, "I should check out this movie".

I watched "Paprika" and loved it. It does share themes with "Inception", but nothing that negates either film. I was so impressed with "Paprika" that I thought I should look up the previous works of the man who created it.

Turns out, I had already seen one of his films. "Perfect Blue" was made in 1997 and I remember watching it when I worked in a local branch of Blockbuster, many years ago. I have never seen it since, but there are images from it burned into my brain.

I thought "Wow. This geezer is making brilliant, mind-bending films that I and other people should be watching!", and decided to pursue his oeuvre.

A couple of weeks later, my brother told me "Satoshi Kon just died." I was like "Who he?", he was like "He directed "Paprika" and "Perfect Blue" and stuff". I was like "Shit."

Satoshi Kon died of cancer on the 24th of August this year. He was 46 years old. He began his career as a director of animated features with "Perfect Blue" in 1997 and, over a 13 year period, created four films of incomparable quality within animation and beyond.

"Perfect Blue" is a film I have only seen once, years ago, but I remember it as a Lynchian brain-bender with future-echoes of "Fight Club" and other such reality-blending identity-crisis pictures. It tells the story of a pop-singer attempting to leave her past behind and become an actress, all the while plagued by a seemingly evil doppelganger and a violent stalker. It is most remembered for a brutal quasi-rape scene that seemed to align it with anime-smut shockers such as "Urotsukidoji", but to dwell on that sequence is to trivialise and negate the various other qualities of the picture and to misunderstand the tone of the scene in question. What I recall is a troubling and indelible psychological thriller.

Satoshi Kon followed this film with an animated picture called "Millennium Actress" in 2002. Another mind-bending study of the difference between reality and fantasy in cinematic form, this time with a heartfelt emotional anchor. The life-story of an aging Japanese actress told through the fantastical plots of her movies, this is a beautiful film to behold, and the human drama is built to such a level that the endlessly inventive narrative tics end up merely servicing the emotional throughline of the plot. This is a phenomenal film, unparalleled in animation and live action. It makes me weep like a bitch.

Next up was "Tokyo Godfathers" a frankly hilarious movie about three homeless types finding an abandoned baby on the streets of Tokyo at Christmas. Kon's most linear film, this is a semi-Capra vision of yuletide hope, mixing healthy portions of cynicism and optimism as the characters bungle their way through outlandish situations on their way to try and deliver the child to its rightful parents. It's fucking brilliant.

After doing a TV show called "Paranoia Agent" (well worth a look), Kon put out another picture dealing with the blur between reality and fantasy: the aforementioned "Paprika". This was a tale of the manipulation of dreams, the ability to insert yourself into another's subconscious, and the outlandish things one can achieve in the fantasies of sleep. My only complaint with the dreamworlds in "Inception" was that, as a lucid dreamer, I didn't see any of the bizarre abilities that a dreamer can effect upon the realisation he is dreaming in the film. "Paprika" suffers no such problem. It shares the technological device that allows the intrusion on another's dream with "Inception", but the flights of fancy witnessed here are all indigenous to this film. Absurd, weird, irrational, scary, intrusive occurrences take place all the time. Dreams and reality are blended as part of the ever-developing plot.

Then Satoshi Kon started making another film. Something about robots called "The Dream Machine" apparently. Then he fucking died.

Pardon the extreme reaction, but where's the justice when a dude like this, who has had a 13 year career to make 4 fantastic films gets dead while cunts like McG and Bret Ratner and Uwe Boll are still alive and allowed to make offensively shit films?

I'm not a religious man, but if I was I would take this as further evidence that God either doesn't exist or is an absolute twat.

You can read an English translation of a Kon's final message to the world on his website here. I don't know why I find it extra upsetting that his final notice was given to him on my birthday, May 18th.

I honestly think that this man could've become the greatest anime director ever and was offering serious competition to live-action film-makers. His death is a fucking tragedy in the movie world. He made four nigh-on perfect films in thirteen years, most film-makers don't do that in fifty years.

I leave you with Kon's sign off in his final missive to us plebs:

With my heart full of gratitude for everything good in the world, I'll put down my pen.

Now excuse me, I have to go.

Satoshi Kon

P.S. I was drunk when I wrote this, so that makes it the unswerving truth and also excuses any illiteracy.


  1. Ah, I've heard of this guy a couple of times in the past. It SUX that he died, and considering all the work he did, its like salt to a wound almost. And right, he could have been the greatest, and I think the world has been denied what could have been even his better work

    Well... at least we can all remember him. And its possible that if enough people do so and recognize his work, then... it'll be a lasting tribute :)

  2. Ah. How did I miss this post?

    I'm going to watch the shit out of all his stuff now.


  3. Good review! The film is definitely a real eye opener into an idol switching careers in the entertainment industry and how some people can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

    Would you also mind reading my take on the film and commenting? There are some things I am confused about and need answers too! Plus to me, it seems like a reflection of the industry!