Satoshi Kon was born in 1963 in Kushiro, a city in Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. He attended art school with aspirations of becoming a painter but soon found himself working in manga as an illustrator. This led to work in anime on the acclaimed Roujin-Z (1991). Kon made his screenwriting debut with the anthology film Memories, but didn’t make his directorial debut until 1998’s 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).
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.
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 4 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 sountrack for Nolan's film.
Kon was working on a film called The Dream Machine, said to be targeted at younger audiences, when he died earlier this week of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46. He left behind a farewell letter, which his family recently posted to the internet.