On August 24, 2010 the world of cinematic storytelling lost one of its most brilliant visionaries when Satoshi Kon succumbed to pancreatic cancer at only the age of 46. The death of Kon left a hole not just in the realm of anime or even animation as a whole, but rather the entire spectrum of cinema. And five years later, that hole remains empty.
Before I go any further, I feel I should lay out some of my personal biases regarding Satoshi Kon that may end up painting this article in an overwhelming positive light. He was, nay still is, my all time favorite director of animated films. Sure I love the other greats like Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, Don Bluth, Brad Bird, Henry Selick, and countless others, and I cherish all of their works and appreciate the immense undertakings that it took to create their incredible works. But there was always something that made Kon’s works stand above the rest to me.
Satoshi Kon just had this way of tapping into humanity in ways few directors can, whether they be animation or live action. He knew his way around the human psyche and wasn’t afraid to delve into its depths. Not only did Kon have an intimate knowledge about human nature and the human mind, his works had some of the most realistic humans I have ever seen in animated form. His characters moved and talked like real people, often real people put into surreal situations of course, but real people nevertheless. And speaking of his more surreal works, the way he was able to effortlessly blur the line between what was reality and what was just his characters’s imaginations was simply masterful.
It was the works of Satoshi Kon that made me become enamored with looking into the deeper themes and meanings of animated works. Which is something I still gleefully do to this very day, with any animated work with multiple layers to it filling me with joy. But I am far from the only person to be influenced Kon’s works. His influence stretched as high as some of the most creative minds in Hollywood.
Darren Aronofsky went as far as buying the American film rights to Kon’s magnum opus, Perfect Blue, just so he could recreate the film’s famous bathtub scene in his own highly acclaimed film Requiem for a Dream. Another of Aronofsky’s acclaimed films, Black Swan, also bears several passing similarities to Perfect Blue, but he has denied that the film had any influence on Black Swan, though that has done little to stop the comparisons.
The Satoshi Kon influence train doesn’t stop there, though, as his film Paprika, which features a story about people being able to enter the dreams of others, was stated by Christopher Nolan as being one of his major influences for Inception. In particular the titular character of Paprika playing a large role in the formation of the character Ariande played by Ellen Page.
Moving on from how far Kon’s influence reached, I would be remissed if I did not take the time to give massive praise to Madhouse for the animation they did in all of the works Kon directed. Madhouse has always been one of my favorite animation studios and their work on Kon’s films and lone TV series, the excellent Paranoia Agent, played a big part in that.
Speaking of Madhouse, I must bring up the unfortunate elephant in the room. That being Satoshi Kon’s last film, Dreaming Machine. The more I read into the creation of this film, the more it just breaks my heart that it may never come to be. Whilst Kon was in the midst of his battle with cancer, he expressed concern to his friend and co-founder of Madhouse and later founder of MAPPA, Masao Maruyama, that the film wouldn’t be made, to which Maruyama promised the film would be completed no matter what.
Fast forward to Otakon 2012, during an interview Maruyama said about the film, “Unfortunately, we still don’t have enough money. My personal goal is to get it within five years after his passing.” Needless to say, Maruyama has sadly failed to accomplish his goal. Not for lack of trying, though, as Maruyama spoke about the film again at Otakon this year. While financing the film is still a recurring issue, an even bigger issue is finding a replacement for Satoshi Kon. And as Crunchyroll’s and AICN’s Scott Green put it in his article about Maruyama’s comments, “Unfortunately, at the current time, no one is able to match Kon’s skill level.”