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Director Satoshi Kon’s death leaves void in anime world

The world lost one of the contemporary masters of animation last week.

What was most remarkable about Satoshi Kon, who died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 24 at the age of 46, is that he didn’t just make anime; he made thought-provoking films that just happened to be animated. "While Kon’s film work incorporated many familiar anime elements — pixielike female characters, sensitive robots, futuristic cityscapes, and an anxious fascination with the creative and destructive power of technology — it was also informed by literary, artistic and cinematic traditions far beyond contemporary Japanese popular culture," the New York Times’ A.O. Scott wrote in an obituary.

I still remember the first Kon movie I ever saw: "Perfect Blue," the story of a pop idol breaking away from her manufactured fame and the online stalker dissatisfied with her new career direction. Its twist ending had me thinking of another film I saw around the same time, M. Night Shyamalan’s "The Sixth Sense."

Unlike Shyamalan, though, Kon didn’t rely on twist endings to carry his films. Kon instead told tales of the human psyche, where the conscious world often intertwined with the subconscious and surreal.

Audiences saw it in the films "Millennium Actress," about a documentary crew sent to profile a reclusive actress; "Tokyo Godfathers," in which three homeless people try to track down the parents of a baby abandoned at a dump; and "Paprika," where a doctor and her associates went diving into people’s dreams on the big screen several years before Leonardo DiCaprio and his friends did so in "Inception." The 26-episode anime "Paranoia Agent," following the social phenomenon brought about by a juvenile assailant known only as Lil’ Slugger, brought Kon’s talents to TV. All are worth tracking down on DVD, with "Paprika" looking extra spiffy on Blu-ray.

Kon’s family posted his final essay, simply titled "Sayonara," on his website soon after his death. The essay was subsequently translated into English by writer Makiko Itoh and posted at her blog at bit.ly/arwUP0. She later wrote she had three reasons for translating it: Kon’s talent and the tragedy of his dying young; her favorite uncle also died from pancreatic cancer; and "because it is such a beautiful document."

Indeed, Kon’s final words are elegant in their simplicity, the thoughts, concerns and conclusions of a man coming to terms with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. If you read it, have some tissues handy — the essay is powerfully touching. He said his biggest regret was not being able to finish "Yumemiru Kikai" ("Dreaming Machine"), writing that he "wept uncontrollably" when Masao Maruyama, founder of anime studio Madhouse, reassured him they would find some way to release it.

"With my heart full of gratitude for everything good in the world, I’ll put down my pen," Kon concluded. "Now excuse me, I have to go."

Aloha, Mr. Kon. And godspeed.


Last week I issued a call for readers to help determine whether an update of the "Cel Shaded" column logo should feature another photo of me wearing a cosplay cap or a more professional look. It’s been a tight vote so far, with "keep cosplaying" ahead by a single vote at last count. Visit blogs.starbulletin.com/otakuohana/?p=1542 to vote by tomorrow.


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