Satoshi Kon: 1963-2010

Satoshi Kon: 1963-2010

This week the world lost one of its great artistic minds. Satoshi Kon, the man behind some of the most stunning anime in history, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46. He is survived by his wife, his parents and many friends, colleagues and fans he acquired over his all-too-brief time as a hard-working artist and director.

Kon's work comprises a significant portion of the past decade's most respected anime. His directorial debut Perfect Blue shows Kon's early flare for affecting psychological drama, following a pop star turned actress as the mounting pressures of her life begin to confuse the distinction between the characters she plays and the person she truly is. Perfect Blue arguably had a bigger impact in the West than at home in Japan. Fragments of the film have popped up in places as diverse as a Madonna music video and in the work of director Darren Aronofsky.

The jumbling of fantasy and reality through the eyes of a performer is also a prominent theme in Satoshi Kon's next film, the critically acclaimed Millennium Actress. Along with the more family-friendly work of Hayao Miyazaki, the film helped usher anime into the American mainstream. Kon saw further critical and commercial success with Tokyo Godfathers, a story about a group of beggars who find themselves in charge of an infant. The movie's vibrant color scheme and inclination to comedy lightens what is otherwise a rather sad story.

In between film projects, Satoshi Kon created and acted as the director of Paranoia Agent, a truly stunning anime TV series. It is a collection of free-floating ideas Kon developed but couldn't expand into feature-length stories. Humorous, deeply metaphorical, frequently satirical and occasionally macabre, Paranoia Agent is unlike any other anime. Kon followed up PA with what is generally regarded as his greatest success, the surreal anime film Paprika. It is a free-flowing story of a psychologist who uses a special machine to enter his patients' dreams. It is based off of Yasutaka Tsutsui's 1993 novel of the same name.

Just before he died, Satoshi Kon wrote his final words in a long letter addressed to his friends and family. The letter was posted after his death on his personal blog. No official English translation is currently available, though one fan has made a generous, unauthorized attempt here. It's rare to get the chance to read an individual's last thoughts, so it was kind and thoughtful of Kon to do those of us left behind the service of recording his dying contemplations. The letter chronicles his sudden diagnosis of cancer, the efforts of his friends to help him get his affairs in order, a somewhat whimsical escape from the hospital so he could die at home and some very touching, very honest expressions for those he held most dear. In the letter, Kon depicts himself as a stubborn workaholic who approached his art with equal passion and protectiveness. He worries for the fate of his unfinished film The Dream Machine and approaches the inconvenience of his sudden passing with a characteristically Japanese sense of propriety. At the end, Satoshi Kon, displaying the unique mix of humor and rich subtext that made him famous, begs our pardon for leaving earlier than expected. If we could have imposed upon him to stay, we certainly would have.