Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memories Of Satoshi Kon

Nearly eight hours since I first read the saddening news, and I'm still in a haze. I didn't expect to wake up this morning to fire up the laptop, resume job hunting, as well as preparing new posts, when a trusted news source Tweeted that visionary filmmaker Satoshi Kon had lost a battle with cancer at age 47. Naturally, doubt took hold for a few second, but then why would Takeda from Gainax lie about such a thing? The anime/film industry is not known for pulling such crass stunts, let alone someone from such a reknowned studio. And then things truly shifted moments later, when Studio Mad House's own Masao Maruyama confirmed the news.

Satoshi Kon was in fact gone, and the media world had lost a creative giant.

It feels like only a few years ago, when his name took a special hold in my heart. It was back when his animated adaptation of Yoshikazu Takeuchi's idol-world psychosaga Perfect Blue had begun to make a name for itself in cult film circles via magazines. And it wasn't until catching it at Anime Expo ' 99, did I feel the power of this incredible new voice. By taking the medium of animation, Kon had weaved a rare tapestry of sight and sound that both paid tribute to the best of the gialli, as well as trailblazed a daring new path for film narrative. It was a truly extraordinary experience, made all the more memorable, when the player used in the screening broke down in the middle of the film's reality-warping third act, making the entire crowd visibly troubled.

Upon the film's revival, the crowd broke into the fastest loud cheer I've ever witnessed for a film. The burst was audibly intense, and yet quick, in order to get right back into the thrill of the story. Kon had this crowd in the palm of his hands, no doubt. And I was right there with them.

Years later, I had already heard word of his follow-up which was to explore the life of a famed actress from the early half of the twentieth century, but I had no clue just how much Kon's melancholy drama Millennium Actress would resonate with me. Stretching across not only her life in the movies, but through the trials, and tribulations of a country evolving, the tale of Chiyoko Fujiwara was something that only alchemists of film can truly conjure, proving that the man's talents were far beyond the fare he had tinkered with previously, which was mostly horror & genre fiction (Roujin Z, Memories, World Apartment Horror).

And still, his assault on the mind via transcendent animation, and provocative ideas reached an apex when his career offered a one-two combo in the forms of a unique heartwearming comedy, Tokyo Godfathers, as well as the ultra grim spiritual follow-up to Perfect Blue, the television masterpiece, Paranoia Agent. Handling two seemingly different types of works within a short span of years seems suicidal when considering the high watermark of quality these works engendered, and yet both deliver strong amounts of emotion coupled with a genuine worry for Japan's contemporary spirit, as well as showcasing brilliant looks at the strains of everyday life. Somehow, Kon's characters, and tales have a relation factor that is unusually high in so that it blurs the distinctions between live action and animated material. His works function as neither the atypical Japanese production, nor does it ever cater to the anime otaku market. Somehow, his works exist in a universe all their own, and grant amazing replay value for those looking to immerse themselves in novel-like storytelling, with a penchant for the surreal.

So it must have felt natural, to follow-up the critical international success of these shows with a daring return to the type of mindbending material that brought him to this plateau. When upon first hearing that Kon's next venture was to take on one of Tsutsui's bizarre, and thematically complex novels in the science-fiction satire, Paprika, a bulk of us said, naturally! It only made sense, but perhaps to those who had in fact read the novel, it probably came off as a near impossibility. With such a strange use of language, and the ever iconic blurring of dream & real, it must have been something of a worrisome prospect for some. But alas, when the film was unleashed upon the world stage in 2006, the world embraced the wonder, and mystery of what was essentially the culmination of Kon's work thus far. A more lyrical, psychedelic mystery than the novel's dark satire, Paprika engendered an even more ravenous fan base. My memories of catching this for the first time surrounded by industry friends are as strong as if they had just occurred last night. Such an unapologetically made piece of work must have even been perplexing to many Japanese audiences, but somehow, the human heart of the piece buoys proceedings, and provides some of the most startling hallucinogenic imagery ever committed to film.

While not my favorite Kon film, it is a brilliant way to bow out, and will likely offer years of discussion with new friends as they discover it for themselves.

Which brings me back to what makes his works so special to me, they offered a bold alternative for the mutual worlds of the animated and the live by never adhering to pre-prescribed rules, and yet remaining intellectually and emotionally stimulating. They stand as proof that the visual medium can indeed break free from format and be successful. They also prove that anime can in fact work beyond the quick sell, and offer some much needed soul searching in a media society sometimes deeply neglectful of it. His works are existing proof that the nurturing of talent, as well as the support of it are paramount, despite what the often terrified media congloms would rather have us believe. There are no sure bets, so why bother play the same old table? The works of Satoshi Kon are of a universe not too far from ours, and we see the potential all over, and must'nt ignore the power it not only grants us as viewers, but to the creators who open the world to new forms & feelings.

I'll truly miss anticipating the works of this important voice, but I will also rejoice in the fact that he was actually here, and remains so as a beacon of hope for not only the media industries, but for all voices longing to explore new facets of the human experience.

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