Word arrived Stateside this morning, not through any official announcement, but through the tweets of his friends and collaborators. Kon Satoshi, one of the leading lights of Anime, director of the films Perfect Blue and Paprika, has sadly passed away at age 47.
To appreciate the enormity of this loss one must realize that despite the large amount of money animation in Japan generates, feature films account for a relatively small portion of it. Only a bare handful of features get released per year, and most of those are theatrical installments of successful TV series. In 2009 exactly 1 film based off an original property grossed over 1 billion yen (a little over 10 million USD)—Hosoda Mamoru’s excellent Summer Wars. So, someone such as Kon who made daring and intelligent films; films that crossed genre boundaries and appealed to diverse audiences, will not be missed solely for his genius but also for his scarcity. Really no one else in anime is making films for the audience that Kon appealed to.
So I’d like to honor Kon Satoshi here by sharing short films of his, however the pickings are slim. As I’ve noted before, shorts are not popular within anime. Generally if you want to isolate the early creative work of certain directors you look towards episodes or sequences within large television series or movies, despite the fact that attribution is sometimes near-impossible to tease out. All the same, I have brought for you today two pieces which provide a small sample of Kon’s work, and provide an excellent taste of his style and thematic preoccupations—especially if you have never discovered his films.
This first short film 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.
Click above to view “Good Morning”
This second choice may be considered by some purists to be a reach, but marked the first time the world took stock of Kon as a name to watch out for. A work from 1995, a full two years before his directorial debut with Perfect Blue, Kon wrote and provided art direction for Magnetic Rose, a 45 minute film segment that screened theatrically as part of a short film triptych called Memories.
Memories remains the most ambitious and enduring work of its kind, as a staggering amount of talent coalesced around its creation. Each of the three short films are directed by different, acclaimed directors, and based off of short manga pieces by Akira-creator, Ôtomo Katsuhiro. Magnetic Rose’s actual director is the legendary Morimoto Kôji, the main creative force behind the acclaimed Studio 4c. Morimoto though has a track record of serving as a mentor to great talents, (Michael Arias, director of Tekkon Kinkreet is among his protegees) and that coupled with works like the studio’s Genius Party omnibus, which he helped spearhead, demonstrate that Morimoto is not scared of collaborating with and accommodating artists of great vision. In Magnetic Rose, via his writing and artistic input, Kon Satoshi proved he was up to the challenge of going toe to toe with some of the Anime World’s great luminaries, and now piece is seen as the most memorable of the film.
Click to Watch “Magnetic Rose”. Segmented into 5 YouTube Parts.
As I mentioned, the film is a hefty 45 minutes long, but is highly recommended. A gothic ghost story in space, three astronauts come across a wrecked space ship and enter a surreal reality built upon dreams. Created the same year Ghost in Shell came out, Magnetic Rose is similarly a touchstone work for a generation of serious, philosophically-minded anime fans, and is still frequently discussed 15 years later. I encourage you to check out the film above, or check out the whole of Memories, which conveniently is streaming right now on Netflix.
Until his death, Kon 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.