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Master animator and storyteller Satoshi Kon dies

Yesterday, news of master Japanese animator Satoshi Kon’s death started circulating wildly. It came as a shock because, first, Kon was only two months shy of his 47th birthday and, secondly, because nobody could confirm what was then thought to be a rumor. The news started after two trustworthy members of the anime industry posted on Twitter: the President of Madhouse Studios (MINDGAME), Masao Maruyama, and one of the founding members of Gainax (NEON GENESIS EVANGELION), Takeda Yasuhiro. It’s been confirmed today that Kon passed away due to pancreatic cancer.

While still studying at Musashino College of the Arts, he started working as a manga artist. Upon graduation, he was an apprentice to AKIRA director Katsuhiro Otomo. He made his debut as director in 1997 with PERFECT BLUE and won acclaim for his refined and realistic expressions. Kon’s blending of fantasy, the dream world, and reality together would become a recurring theme in many of his works, including MILLENIUM ACTRESS (2001), TOKYO GODFATHERS (2002) and PARANOIA AGENT (2003), the latter a 13-part animated series about a mysterious bat-swinging child who attacks civilians that are suffering mental and psychological traumas. His next project, PAPRIKA (2006), was about a psychologist who uses a device for therapists to enter her patients’ dreams and nightmares. It’s been most recently cited as a major influence on Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION (2010). He’s considered by many to be a master in pushing the boundaries of storytelling in animation, right there with Hayao Miyazaki.

Kon was currently working on his next feature, THE DREAMING MACHINE. While no details have been released and not much can be gleaned from the official site, Kon did drop a hook of promise from an interview in 2008 and you can see first look stills here:

On the surface, it’s going to be a fantasy-adventure targeted at younger audiences. However, it will also be a film that people who have seen our films up to this point will be able to enjoy. So it will be an adventure that even older audiences can appreciate. There will be no human characters in the film; only robots. It’ll be like a “road movie” for robots.

Even if the talented artists at Madhouse Studios do finish THE DREAMING MACHINE posthumously, we suspect something will be missing.

On August 23, the last tweet was posted on Kon’s Twitter: “I might be old-fashioned, or maybe it’s just that I still admire the old values.”

In a message titled “Sayonara” published posthumously on his personal site, he wrote “With my heart full of gratitude for everything good in the world, I’ll put down my pen. Now excuse me, I have to go.” (UPDATE: someone has been kind enough to translate the complete entry into English here. If you want to read in Japanese, go here.)

Back in 2008, the Lincoln Center had a career retrospective on Kon. In attendance, he humbly mentioned that he was too young to get a career retrospective and that, perhaps, he’ll get another ten or twenty years from now, after he’s done more work and gained more experience.

Satoshi Kon, your creative voice will be missed.