‘Satoshi Kon, who died of pancreatic cancer aged 46, was one of the boldest and most distinctive film-makers to specialise in animation. His main body of work – four completed feature films and an acclaimed television mini-series – was playful, sophisticated and adult. Tired of the cliches of mass-produced Japanese animation – “robots and beautiful little girls,” as he once put it – Kon sought to make animation that used ambitious and often disorientating editing, intercutting and scene-shifting.
‘”In animation, only what is intended to be communicated is there,” he once said. “If I had a chance to edit live-action, it would be too fast for audiences to follow.” Kon made only sparing use of CGI in his mostly drawn films, relying on such superb animators as Shinji Otsuka and Toshiyuki Inoue.
‘Much of Kon’s animation combines realistic drama (usually set in present-day Tokyo) with dreams and fantasy. This approach culminated in his dazzling 2006 film Paprika, which received a standing ovation at the Venice film festival. Four years before Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Paprika portrayed a puckish “dream detective” shimmying through the subconscious fantasies of other people. Nolan has acknowledged Paprika as an influence, but Kon’s film has far more fun with its dream worlds. Its titular heroine dashes through paintings and signboards while transforming into everything from a fairy to a mermaid to Pinocchio.
‘Kon thought that people lived in multiple realities, such as those of television, the internet and the realm of memory. “The human brain is mysterious; we can’t share the time axis in our memory with other people,” he said. “I’m interested in trying to visualise those nonlinear ways of thinking.” The first feature he directed was a Hitchcockian psycho-thriller, Perfect Blue (1997), about the mental disintegration of a young actor after she takes part in a lurid rape scene.
‘Perhaps the only effective horror film in animation, Perfect Blue was graphically explicit and psychologically disturbing. Asked about its 18-rated gore, Kon said he was not particularly interested in the violence. “However,” he said, “if the story or the character or the expression of a mental state requires a violent expression, then I wouldn’t hesitate to use it.” In contrast, Kon’s next film, Millennium Actress (2001), was a lyrical magic-realist romance. In it, another starlet – who resembles the reclusive Setsuko Hara, star of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) – obsessively searches for her lost wartime love, racing through movies and memories as if they were the same thing.
‘Tokyo Godfathers (2003) proved to be another change of direction, a Frank Capraesque Christmas comedy about three homeless people trying to return an abandoned baby girl to her family. The film also had the same basic plot as 3 Godfathers, John Ford’s 1948 western. Despite its humour, Tokyo Godfathers was upfront in showing its characters’ harsh situation. This social commentary was also overt in Kon’s Paranoia Agent (2004), a 13-part late-night miniseries, in which Tokyo is terrorised by a homicidal little boy with a baseball bat. Coming after a wave of much-publicised youth crimes in Japan, this was a near-the-knuckle subject for television animation. The darkly funny show soon turned fantastical, with shades of Twin Peaks and The X-Files, and macabre subplots about suicide clubs and repressed housewives.
‘After Paprika, Kon began The Dreaming Machine, which promised to be his biggest departure – a film suitable for both adults and children, set in a fanciful future with an all-robot cast. It seems likely that the film will be completed by Kon’s artists and released by the Madhouse studio, which has handled all of his work since Perfect Blue.’ — Andrew Osmond
Satoshi Kon Personal Website
English translation of SK’s last words
‘FOND FAREWELL: Satoshi Kon
Satoshi Kon Wiki Community
Fuck Yeah Satoshi Kon
Satoshi Kon Facebook page
Official ‘Paprika’ Website
‘Dark Horse to publish Satoshi Kon’s Opus, Seraphim’
‘Satoshi Kon’s Posthumous Work Machine That Dreams May End As Dream’
SK’s manga ‘Tropic of the Sea’
Book: ‘Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist’
Satoshi Kon’s List of 100 Films
A tribute by French artists to Satoshi Kon
‘”He’s the Internet”: A Conversation on Satoshi Kon’
SATOSHI KON – AN ANIMATED TRIBUTE
‘Satoshi Kon Explores the Insanity of Japan’
‘Satoshi Kon’s Unfinished Symphony’
‘Satoshi Kon’s Theory of Animation’
‘The Dreams of Satoshi Kon: Chapter I – Prehistory’
Satoshi Kon – Editing Space & Time
Perfect Blue: Interview with Director Satoshi Kon
Greatest Film Directors: Satoshi Kon
Rest In Peace Satoshi Kon
from Midnight Eye
I’d like to talk about the genesis of Paprika. I know that you met Yasutaka Tsutsui, the author of the original novel, in 2003 and that he wanted you to make his book into a film.
Satoshi Kon: That was the first time we met each other and I thought perhaps as a gesture of goodwill or business manners that he would say something like that, but perhaps in the back of his mind he was considering it. I was already a fan of his work, so I was glad to meet him.
Once he did give his blessing to make the film, did pre-production start soon after that or did it start the wheels in motion for production of the film?
SK: At the time of our meeting, the Paranoia Agent TV series was still in production. Completing that series was the first commitment for Madhouse. We were thinking of a project that we could realistically begin developing soon after Paranoia Agent, so it happened quite naturally. We started developing Paprika while we were still in production on Paranoia Agent.
If you had not got his blessing, would you not have made the film?
SK: I don’t think I would have. As a film based on someone else’s story, without that meeting and blessing from the master, I probably wouldn’t have made the film.
SK: Of course there is an element of fate, but in order for a film to come into existence it has to go beyond that. When fate happened to bring us together, I started to think about what the meaning was for me to make Paprika at that moment. All of the films I had made up until that point – Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers – were made through a very realistic method of representation, and the themes and subject matter were also quite realistic. I thought Paprika was a chance to tap a new part of creativity within me by using realistic methods of representation to deal with something more fantastic.
Before I ask about the themes and imagery in the film, I’d like to ask about some practical things like the budget of the film and production time. Is this the largest budget to date you’ve worked with and the longest production period? How does it compare to your other work?
SK: It’s on par budget-wise and time-wise with Tokyo Godfathers.
But was there more use of CG or newer technologies with Paprika than with previous films?
SK: Yes, there was. We considered how far we could expand the possibilities using computer graphics, so the role that CG played in this film was bigger than in my previous work. The biggest challenge was that in all kinds of 3D and 2D animation, there’s a big divide between hand-drawn analog animation and digital animation. In all the projects I’ve seen, it’s been difficult to blend them harmoniously. I prefer hand-drawn imagery myself, so my biggest challenge was how to blend them so the textures worked together.
Everything blended very well. Perhaps in a similar way, Howl’s Moving Castle used CG as a means to an end to achieve an overall vision, not to stand out.
SK: It’s true that the attitude of directors towards how to employ CG differs from person to person. In fact I don’t think that type of blending has become a natural part of our everyday lives. Our wish is for analog animation to swallow digital animation.
Going into the themes and visual style of the film, as you mentioned, Paprika has more surreal content than any of your previous films. I do recall some surreal imagery in Paranoia Agent and Millennium Actress, but with this film it’s a full-blown display of surrealism. What challenges were entailed in achieving all the fantastical and hyper-detailed imagery?
SK: It’s not as if I had a goal in mind when I chose this type of hyper-real technique. Rather, I was hoping to create something that went beyond my imagination. I thought, “What would happen if we did this?” I wanted to surprise myself. It wasn’t a plan I set up, but it resulted in something very strange and it gave me a lot of confidence in what I could achieve. As you say, the hyper-real method of creating reality is an “excessive reality.” This is different from live-action filmmaking. It’s a different kind of reality that challenges us what to emphasize or not emphasize. Each step will create a world beyond what is truly real. Instead of trying to create reality as it is around us, I felt that the surreal world would come out.
Regarding some of the specific imagery like the Japanese doll that destroys the buildings and the parade of characters that includes inanimate objects such as furniture and appliances. Were those elements in the original novel or did you come up with them with your Madhouse team?
SK: The parade itself is something I came up with. It’s one of the most important motifs for me, and wasn’t in the original story. I didn’t feel a strong desire that I had to change the original story, but the novel was very text-based and psychological. Trying to visualize all that text couldn’t compete with the novel as it is, so I had to find a way in one visual step to represent the mindset of the novel and that became the parade of inanimate objects. Where that parade goes is also interesting – it overflows into reality. It starts in the desert, which is the furthest point from civilization, through the jungle, over a bridge, and finally intrudes into reality.
One line that I found fascinating was when Paprika’s character says that dreams and the internet are the same thing in a way. Do you believe that?
SK: What I wrote was that the internet and dreams share the same quality of giving rise to the repressed subconscious. I think in countries like Japan and America and other countries where internet is prevalent, people can anonymously seek or release things they can’t speak of offline, as if there’s a part of the subconscious that’s uncontrollable and comes out on the internet. That is very much like dreams. This may be a very visualistic analogy, but I’ve always thought we drop down into dreams, and when you’re sitting in front of your computer and connect to the internet, you’re also going down into some kind of underworld. I’ve always thought those two images had something in common. I’m not trying to say that dreams and the internet are good or bad, I’m trying to saying that there’s good and bad that cannot be judged in both worlds. Some people say that in the virtual world, different rules exist or try to say that a lot of vicious things happen there, but I don’t think there’s a reason to differentiate the virtual world from reality because reality includes that virtual world.
The internet is a kind of mirror that reflects everything good and bad in society.
Satoshi Kon’s films & TV work
The Dreaming Machine (?)
‘During Kon’s battle with pancreatic cancer, the director expressed concern about the film being finished to Madhouse head Masao Maruyama. Maruyama assured Kon the film would be completed, no matter what. When Kon died, production was suspended indefinitely until further plans could be worked out over the film. On Friday November 12, 2010 Madhouse Studios announced production resumed with character designer and chief animation director Yoshimi Itazu taking over as director of the film. At Otakon 2011, Maruyama revealed that production had been put on hold for financial reasons, but that he was dedicated to eventually be able to finish the film. According to Maruyama, about 600 shots out of 1500 had been animated at that point.
‘Susumu Hirasawa, whose song “Dreaming Machine” (from The Ghost in Science) is the source of the film’ title, said: “I never received an official order from Kon. It’s an unspoken agreement of sorts. There are scenes where he specifically requested a certain track to be used, but there are also many parts where there are no such directions, so it falls to me to choose the songs. This is a difficult task. But we must carry out his dying request, to complete this work, even without a director to question”.
‘In 2011, founder Masao Maruyama left Madhouse to found MAPPA in order to “make new shows that we wouldn’t have been able to make at Madhouse.” At Otakon 2012, he stated regarding Satoshi Kon’s unfinished film, “Unfortunately, we still don’t have enough money. My personal goal is to get it within five years after his passing. I’m still working hard towards that goal.”
‘In August 2016, Mappa Producer Masao Maruyama Said in an interview: “For 4~5 years, I kept searching for a suitable director to complete Kon’s work. Before his death, the storyboard and script, even part of the keyframe film was already completed. Then I thought, even if someone can mimic Kon’s work, it would still be clear that it’s only an imitation. For example, if Mamoru Hosoda took the director’s position, the completed Dreaming Machine would still be a good piece of work. However, it’s Hosoda’s movie, not Kon’s. Dreaming Machine should be Kon’s movie, him and only him, not someone else’s. That means we cannot and should not “compromise” only to finish it. I spent years, finally reached this hard conclusion. Instead, we should take only Kon’s “original concept”, and let somebody turns it into a feature film. By doing so, the completed piece could 100% be that person’s work, and I’m OK with that.”‘ — collaged
Ohayo (Good Morning) (2008)
‘Ohayu is a super-brief one minute piece directed as part of the Ani*Kuri 15 project, a multimedia scheme where one minute short animations played on TV and the web. In the film a girl waking up discovers exhibits a literal disconnect in the process of waking up. This was Satoshi Kon’s final work before his early death at the age of 46. Until his death, Satoshi was in the middle of work on a new film project, MADHOUSE’s Yume-Miru Kikai. The status of that film is unclear at this time, but hopefully we’ll be treated to one last major work from this unique film voice.’ — collaged
the entire film
‘Paprika is a highly sophisticated work of the imagination, a journey into a labyrinth of dreams and an exploration of the line between dreams and reality. It’s not a film for children, and it’s not even something children would like. It’s challenging and disturbing and uncanny in the ways it captures the nature of dreams — their odd logic, mutability and capacity to hint at deepest terrors. The story surrounds the invention of a device meant to be used therapeutically. A dreamer is hooked up to a machine, making it possible for doctors to see a dream on a screen, record it and understand its unconscious meaning. As the film begins, the device — known as the DC Mini — has not yet been approved, but young Dr. Chiba is using it already to help her patients. Moreover, she is entering her patient’s dreams, in the guise of an alter ego known as Paprika. This is easily one of the most insightful and enjoyable films about the unconscious that you’re likely to find, full of images that echo through the mind in eerie ways.’ — San Francisco Chronicle
Paranoia Agent (2004)
‘Paranoia Agent (妄想代理人) is a Japanese anime television series created by director Satoshi Kon and produced by Madhouse about a social phenomenon in Musashino, Tokyo caused by a juvenile serial assailant named Lil’ Slugger (the English equivalent to Shōnen Batto, which translates to “Bat Boy”). The plot relays between a large cast of people affected in some way by the phenomenon; usually Lil’ Slugger’s victims or the detectives assigned to apprehend him. As each character becomes the focus of the story, details are revealed about their secret lives and the truth about Lil’ Slugger.’ — collaged
Satoshi Kon Interview (Paranoia Agent)
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
‘Japanese animator Satoshi Kon has a striking sense of composition, but I’m more impressed by his storytelling skills; his previous feature, Millennium Actress, was a highly ambitious tale with a sweeping sense of contemporary Japanese history. The three main characters of this 2003 feature are homeless—one a decadent gambler, another a transvestite, the third a young woman who’s fled her abusive father. When they find an abandoned infant in a pile of garbage, the transvestite refuses to part with it, which forces all three to deal with their pasts. Except for a bathetic ending, Kon transcends his corny premise, leavening its sentiment with irony and a mercilessly downbeat vision of metropolitan Japan.’ — Chicago Reader
The Making of ‘Tokyo Godfathers’
Millennium Actress (2001)
‘Millennium Actress is fabulous for many reasons. Most important, this movie is Chiyoko’s story, not an anime adventure. It’s animated, but it’s human and will touch the soul of anyone who has loved deeply. We wonder, alongside Chiyoko, if she will ever see her love again. But it’s the quest that rips our hearts out in this classic and, yes, manipulative tearjerker. Too often, anime – between the explosions and cataclysms reflected in opaque eyes – is a visual show, like IMAX films. Millennium Actress is a movie first, catching us up in its sweeps and turns. As with their Perfect Blue, Kon and Murai craft a nonlinear story, interweaving the tale’s fact and fiction, treating time as just another element subservient to Chiyoko’s yarn. She traipses through Japanese history, backed by dazzling sets that look as they might if Peter Max had turned his psychedelic eye to traditional Japanese art. Some might cavil that Millennium Actress is confusing, as it blurs the line between Chiyoko’s real and cinematic lives, but that’s the point: Love is all-consuming – it never dies, even as life goes on.’ — Chicago Tribune
The Making of ‘Millennium Actress’ (1/3)
Perfect Blue (1997)
‘The pressures of career choices and the threat of a murderously obsessive fan loosen former pop star Mima’s grasp on reality, in a story that explores the dehumanizing effects of the entertainment industry. Perfect Blue also shows how that same industry makes vulnerable women complicit in their own sexual exploitation. This startling first feature reminds us of the immense talent the anime universe lost when director Satoshi Kon succumbed to cancer at 46. No one else would even have thought of doing this intense psychodrama as an animated feature—the source material’s not dissimilar to Black Swan—and surely only Kon had the visual skills to transfer the disturbingly fragmented mise en scène of a Polanski or an Argento into animated form. The outcome is dark, mesmerizing, but also controlled and coherent in a way the hyperimaginative Kon never quite managed again.’ — Trevor Johnston
Perfect Blue Interview with Director-Satoshi Kon
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (1994)
‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure showed off Kon’s abilities in 1993, as he scripted and co-produced the fifth episode of the OVA series based on Hirohiko Araki’s flamboyant fighting manga. It’s a strange match, as Kon admitted in interviews that, as a kid, he was never fond of the overblown shonen fisticuffs that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure frequently embodies. He also stuck to the story established in Araki’s manga, and the only really Kon-like scene comes when series villain Dio torments an underling by chasing him into the same car over and over. Perhaps Kon and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure weren’t so different.’ — Anime News Network
Katsuhiro Otomo World Apartment Horror (1991)
‘World Apartment Horror (ワールド・アパートメント・ホラー) is a 1991 live-action feature film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, with a screenplay by Otomo and Keiko Nobumoto from a story by Satoshi Kon. The film stars Sabu (later a film director) as a yakuza henchmen who encounters language problems and evil spirits in his attempts to evict a Tokyo apartment full of foreigners, a role for which he received the Best New Actor Award at the Yokohama Film Festival in 1992. A manga adaptation created by Kon was published by Kodansha, under the same title, on August 1, 1991.’ — collaged
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, It’s a goodie. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Yeah, Cold Cave too. I only went to Hospital once, but I bought a ton of stuff there and envied NYC for having it. Hm, I think I knew and listened to Basement 5 a very long time ago. I’ll have to check. I certainly know of them. Cool. I did hear the new Malkmus single, and I think it’s beautiful. It’s going to send me back on a Malkmus kick, which I haven’t been on in a long time. For what it’s worth, whenever a reviewer expresses that he or she or they have the hots for an actor in the film they’re reviewing, I immediately distrust their objectivity. So awesome about the countdown to your festival, and so sorry I won’t be there to witness its riches and catch your opening intro. ** Tosh Berman, My great pleasure as ever, Tosh. ** Jamie, Howdy, Jamie! I’m good, I think. Yeah, pretty sure. I did not find the zone yesterday. I did try. I’m in some unusual for me anti-concentration state or something, but I’m hoping to force a breakthrough today. Jeez. Right, about the ABBA video? I don’t know who directed it either, but it’s really as though they commissioned some 70s experimental filmmaker like Hollis Frampton or someone to use them in one of his projects or something. My favorite ABBA song is ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. Just an absolutely transcendently perfect song in my opinion. And not a bad video either with all those crazy freeze-frames, if you’ve seen it. My weekend plans are to force a work breakthrough for sure and mainly. Uh, yeah, I think I’m trying to make that happen by not planning to do anything else. It sounds like you have a busy weekend, good busy, and with that writing gang reward at the close. I ‘pray’ that we can share our productivity-related tidbits on Monday. Ha. May your weekend be like a skinny little guy lifting a gigantic boulder over his head. Pirate flag raising love, Dennis. ** Kyler, Hi. I don’t think I bought anything there. Did I? Hm, I can’t remember actually. I do think I was accompanied by someone who did buy something there. It was a cool store, I liked it. There was a store like that in LA way back when that wasn’t as cool, but was still okay, and that little LA store somehow talked Donovan into doing an unannounced in-store concert, and I just happened to walk in there tagging after a friend who claimed he could do astral projection while that concert was happening, and, in between songs, I requested that Donovan do ‘Sunny Goodge Street’, and he did, and that was very cool. ** Bill, Hi. Oh, did I do a post on ‘Compact’ before? Dang. As I think I said at some point, not all of the dead posts have been uploaded into WordPress yet because they’re on a hard drive at Zac’s place, and I keep forgetting to ask him to do that, so sometimes I see no evidence of a previous post on something when there actually was, for whatever that’s worth. Yes, I am a member of the board of the Feature Foundation, but, so far, I have no idea what that entails. Steve’s good seeming. He lives somewhere in No. Cal. (Correction: I just saw Bernard’s comment. Oregon not No. Cal.) I’m not sure what he’s doing apart from posting on Facebook. Surely something interesting. I hope you have a relaxed and very exciting weekend. ** Bernard, Hi, B. Cool, glad you dug the interview. I remember your non-photo in ‘Coming Attractions’ now. Yeah, you used to be so low-lit. What happened? Ha ha. Yeah, I think you have to get famous first and then start changing your name. Or I think you have to be really young and attractive and hire people to spread the rumor that you’re secretly really young and attractive. I wish I could go to AWP. I always want to go. Every year. And I never do. I suck. Oh, wow, B., what you wrote on Holler is so nice. Thank you ever so much. I guess I should share that, blushingly or not. Everyone, the great Bernard Welt is doing this online residency kind of deal for the awesome site Holler where he writes about whatever he wants every day, and now he has written this typically fine thing that includes very kind words about this blog and my other stuff. You should read it. It’ll put the veritable smile on your veritable face. It will. Guaranteed. Do that here. Thank you again, old pal. Paris in the snow has been very sigh-inducing, yes. I think it’s over now. That is melting. And it looks great withy a melting surface too. Come back, come back … Is there anyway to see that class photo? ** Alex rose, Hi, Alex! Congrats on the opening. I’m guessing you’re not there? Or are you? Yes, yes, please, from my knees, from my thighs even, work out some kind of blog/tumblr thing. Being a blog maker have been a much lonelier semi-occupation ever since your old one vanished. Love from the mountaintop, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! I haven’t heard anything about the press agent. Might be bad news, or it might be that ‘no news is good news’ thing. Sometimes our producer, who was/is trying to set that up, forgets to tell us news. I think your day yesterday sounds quite fine and dandy. I didn’t work on what I needed to work on either. Ugh. Sometimes I miss doing cocaine. It did snow yesterday for a while. It was beautiful. Now, apparently, to hear the weather people, we are post-snow for the season. But at least we got a bunch. ‘PGL’ got rejected from a film festival that we were dreaming of being selected for even though we knew it was a very long shot since the festival is small (25 films total) and ultra-competitive. But the cool thing is that the head curator of the festival wrote me an email to say that ‘PGL’ came extremely close to being selected, and that he loves the film and thinks it’s very powerful and haunting, and that he’s going to highly recommend it to other festival programmers, so what should have been bad news was actually very encouraging. Other than that, I had a coffee and visit with a visiting American writer, Christopher Bollen, and we walked around, ate pastries, and it was very nice. So it wasn’t such a bad day. Now you and I both have two whole days to have a great time. Did you? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. Oops, on the Haswell record’s ups and downs. A grower, maybe? Very cool about the compendium becoming realer and realer. ** Statictick, Hey. Yeah, it is seeming like my blog is being weird with lengthy comments of late. I don’t know why. Sorry. Glad you’ve sussed out the apartment thing. Whew. Any luck with the flirty dude? Can flirty dudes be trusted? ** Keatoon, Hi, K. I didn’t get to the story yet but I will this weekend, done deal. Excited to. Bad weirdo, I guess? I like weirdos, some, but, yes, the weirdo breed is vast. Paris in March? Whoa! Give the scoop when there’s scoop. It’s Valentines Day already? Do the French do that holiday? Can’t remember. Maybe not? Have whatever fun there is to be had. ** JM, Hi there. Um, I would think so, but I haven’t come across any opinion that’s been translated into English. I was very meh about ‘House of Leaves’. I feel like I was too old or too well-read in experimental lit for its spell to work or something. You take care too. ** James Nulick, I think that is pretty rare. Fuck no on the bad person thing, taste is taste and a reader’s needs is a reader’s needs. Haven’t heard about the press agent yet. Not sure if that’s a bad sign or not. Could be. Fingers very crossed. 60,000 is a ton of words. Congrats, grindstone nosing buddy. As long as you are a good writer, and you are, then having fun is a bunch of the battle absolutely. Love, me. ** Right. Are you keen to explore stuff made by the fine anime auteur Satoshi Kon this weekend? Gosh, I hope so. See you on Monday.