Celebrity Deaths ›

The Nightmare World of Satoshi Kon

Getty Images / Franco Origlia

The Nightmare World of Satoshi Kon

Japanese writer and filmmaker Satoshi Kon (1963 - 2010) had a unique style and vision that was unlike any other in anime. Born in Kushiro, a city in Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, Kon attended art school with aspirations of becoming a painter but soon found himself working in manga as an illustrator. He transitioned to anime, working on the acclaimed Roujin-Z (1991), and then made his screenwriting debut with the anthology film Memories. His directorial debut came in 1998 with the widely acclaimed Perfect Blue.

"Satoshi Kon used the hand-drawn medium to explore social stigmas and the human psyche, casting a light on our complexities in ways that might have failed in live action. Much of it was gritty, intense, and at times, even nightmarish. Kon didn't shy away from mature subject matter or live-action sensibilities in his work, and his films will always occupy a fascinating middle ground between 'cartoons' and the world as we know it."

~Canadian filmmaker Dean DeBlois, writer and director of "Lilo and Stitch" and "How to Train Your Dragon"

Kon was working on a film called The Dream Machine, said to be targeted at younger audiences, when he died Aug. 24, 2010 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46. We look back at Kon's acclaimed films.

“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

Perfect Blue
Based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, the project was originally conceived as a live-action, direct-to-video shoot, until production facilities were destroyed by the Kobe earthquake of 1995. The psychological thriller is about Mima Kirigoe, a member of a squeaky clean, all-girl pop group who decides to quit music to pursue a career in acting. Her new, more adult role on a TV psychodrama does not sit well with some of her fans, particularly a stalker calling himself Me-Mania, who has taken to posting intimate details of her life on the Web. As those around her start turning up murdered, Mima begins losing her grip on reality and comes to believe she is being persecuted by a spectral version of her former, pop-idol self.

The film earned comparisons to the work of Roman Polanski, Dario Argento, and Brian De Palma. Legendary producer Roger Corman said, “If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney, they’d make a film like this.” Darren Aronofsky bought the remake rights to Perfect Blue and paid tribute to the film by recreating one of its scenes shot-for-shot in Requiem for a Dream (2000).

Millennium Actress Kon’s second feature, Millennium Actress (2002) is a love story about a famous, reclusive old actress named Chiyoko Fujiwara telling a documentary maker about her lifelong quest to be reunited with a mysterious artist she fell in love with before he had to flee the Imperial authorities in the 1930s. The complex, non-linear narrative blurs the lines between art, imagination and memory as it becomes apparent many of Fujiwara’s reminisces are actually scenes from her films. Considered by many to be Kon’s masterpiece, the film was a critical success but did only modest business in the U.S.

Paprika Following Millennium Actress, Kon made the lighthearted Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and then worked on a TV series called Paranoid Agent. For his next film, he returned to the realm of psychological thriller, adapting Yasutaka Tsutsui’s sci-fi novel of the same name, one first published in four parts in the Japanese version of Marie Claire Magazine. The plot concerns a radical new form of psychotherapy that allows people to record and view their dreams using a machine called the DC-Mini. But when the machine is stolen, the thief uses it to enter the dreams of others, manipulate their psyches and ultimately destroy their minds. A young female psychotherapist must enter into the surreal world inside others’ heads using her dream avatar ‘Paprika’ in order to figure out who is behind the plot and to keep the real world from being overtaken by dream figures. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Though it didn’t receive the near-universal critical praise of Millennium Actress, it was well-received. When Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster Inception (2010) arrived this year, many found aspects of it reminiscent of Paprika. On YouTube, fans have underscored this by posting mash-ups featuring scenes from Paprika cut to the soundtrack for Nolan's film.