Remembering Legendary Anime Artist Satoshi Kon

  • Animation is one of the biggest industries in Japan. People from around the world enjoy Japanese anime, flocking to Japan to take part in the genuine culture. Some people have made themselves known in the animation industry such as Osamu Tezuka, Fujiko Fujio, and Hayao Miyazaki. People like these have made their impact on the world by creating beautiful stories and bringing them to life through animation, appealing to all audiences in Japan and later on in the world.

    Satoshi Kon (今敏) was one of those people. He has created unique stories and brought them to the screen with beautiful animation sequences that left an impact and inspired other works. Not a lot of people nowadays may have heard of this legendary director, and little do people know about the impact he made, and the contributions he made to the animation industry and the film industry around the world.

    Who is Satoshi Kon?

    Satoshi Kon was born on October 12, 1963, in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. Due to his father’s work, he moved to Sapporo where he stayed until middle school. He was a close friend of manga artist Seiho Takizawa, who is known for his war stories and anthologies. It became apparent to Kon that he wanted to become an animator from a young age. His inspirations were works by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Leiji Matsumoto. Yasutaka Tsutsui also influenced his drawings. In 1982, Kon attended Musashino Art University, a university in Kodaira (western Tokyo). As a student, Kon was influenced by foreign films and read Yasutaka Tsutsui’s books.

    Early Career

    While he was still in college he has assisted with the writing of several manga books, and one of the notable people he worked with was Katsuhiro Otomo who created Akira. Kon also debuted as a manga artist with short manga ‘Toriko’. He later released another manga called ‘Kaikisen’, which only had six chapters. Kon worked on a number of films including ‘Kanojo no Omoide’, ‘Patlabor 2: The Movie’ and ‘Rojin Z’.

    Later on, he worked with Mamoru Oshii for ‘Seraphim: 266,613,336 Wings’, which was never finished. In 1993, Kon scripted and co-produced the fifth episode of ‘Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’. In 1995, Kon became a scriptwriter, layout artist, and art director for short film ‘Magnetic Rose’, which was the first among three short films in Katsuhiro Otomo’s ‘Memories’. From this point on Kon’s style would include mixing fantasy and reality.

    Fantasy and Reality

    In 1997, Kon made his directorial debut with movie ‘Perfect Blue’, based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, which gained popularity abroad along with ‘Akira’ and ‘Ghost In The Shell’. Perfect Blue is also the first movie of Kon that deals with the idea of fanboyism, an idea which can be observed in his later films. During the production of this film, Kon was not satisfied with how the original screenplay was written and was later allowed to make the changes he desired, as long as he maintained the three basic elements of the story (idol, horror, stalker). ‘Perfect Blue’ was just the beginning of the prime of his career that would last over the next ten years.

    He later wanted to adapt ‘Paprika’ by Yasutaka Tsutsui into his next film but was pushed when the distribution company for Perfect Blue went bankrupt. However, his next movie would incorporate the idea of blurring reality and fantasy. In 2002, ‘Millennium Actress’ was released. The movie had approximately the same budget as Perfect Blue, but garnered higher success and earned numerous awards. The screenplay was written by Sadayuki Murai, who also wrote the screenplay for ‘Perfect Blue’. The following year Kon released his third movie called ‘Tokyo Godfathers’, and in 2004, he released 13-episode television series ‘Paranoia Agent’, which touches on the topic of reality and fantasy. Paranoia Agent was basically created from Kon’s ideas which he felt would not fit into his movies.

    In 2006, he finally was able to work on the adaptation of Paprika. The movie Paprika centered on a new form of psychotherapy that utilizes dream analysis to treat mental health patients. The movie heavily bordered on Kon’s signature theme of fantasy and reality. Paprika went on to win the Best Feature Length Theatrical Anime Award during the 2007 Tokyo International Anime Fair. The movie gained good reviews from critics, praising the movie to be “a sophisticated work of the imagination”.

    Final Months

    In May of 2010, Kon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given six months to live. Kon decided to spend the remainder of his life at home. Before his death, he had composed a final message, which was to be uploaded to his blog upon his death. In the message, he explained that he had decided not to let the public know of his illness. Kon died on August 24, 2010, at the age of 46. When his death was announced it caused shock and surprise, as he showed no signs of illness during public events that happened not long before he died.


    Kon’s works had an impact on Darren Aronofsky, who wrote a eulogy for Kon upon his death. In the movie Perfect Blue he was so inspired by the depiction of the loss of sanity and the blurred lines between reality and fantasy, that he had the movie licensed so that he could recreate a scene for his film ‘Requiem for a Dream’, and is said that Perfect Blue has also inspired another of Aronofsky’s films, ‘Black Swan’. It is also speculated that Kon’s Paprika was one of the inspirations for Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film ‘Inception’. Both movies had the similarity of blurring the line between reality and fantasy, with the technology for people to enter the realm of dreams.

    Satoshi Kon was truly a legendary filmmaker. His works are unique and have left an impact on those who saw them, and little do people outside of Japan know about his great works. Though he may be gone, he will always live through his masterpieces and continue to inspire future generations in animation and filmmaking.

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