Some of the artistic partners of Japanese animation impresario Satoshi Kon have been reporting via Twitter that he died yesterday at age 47, apparently due to cancer. Details thus far have been limited, since so far the only official announcement has been through these 140-character missives, but the news comes directly from two anime luminaries: Masao Maruyama, head of Japan’s Madhouse Studio (which produced all of Kon’s major works) and Yasuhiro Takeda, founding member of the Gainax studio.
Kon was a manga artist who worked behind the scenes in anime before creating an international sensation with his debut directorial feature, 1998’s Perfect Blue, which blends Hitchcockian psychodrama with bright bubblegum colors and surreal imagery. It follows a pop-singer-turned-actress dealing with a possibly supernatural stalker and an emotional breakdown that makes her doubt her own senses, which gave Kon a chance to touch on what would become his pet theme: the intersections between fantasy and reality, and the way art and emotion blur the lines between them. His follow-up, 2001’s Millennium Actress (which Scott Tobias dissected at length last year for New Cult Canon) went deeper into those ideas, with the story of an aged actress looking back on her life as if it were a series of genre pictures, and gladly falling into their bright fantasies.
Kon took a slight detour with the 2003 comedy Tokyo Godfathers, a story of three wacky homeless people unexpectedly dealing with a baby; that film’s broad stereotypes and greater association with the real world was less satisfying. But Kon returned to type both with his chilling 2005 TV series Paranoia Agent, about a variety of people affected by a mysterious series of assaults, and with his last feature, 2007’s Paprika, in which a device letting scientists enter other people’s dreams acts as a McGuffin that permits a 90-minute onslaught of Kon’s most intense, colorful, crazed visions yet. (See the trailer below. And yes, we accidentally and inexcusably left this one out of our Inception-inspired inventory about stories that take place in dreams.)
Kon was reportedly working on another project with Madhouse, a feature film called The Dreaming Machine. (It’d be hard to imagine a title that sounds more like a Kon film.) It’s a road movie about a group of robots in a post-humanity world. Stills and descriptions—some taken from an interview with Kon—can be found here. It was slated for release this year, so here’s hoping it’s far enough along to see release and still keep Kon’s sensibility intact, because that sensibility was unique and irreplaceable.