Art The visionary uniqueness of Satoshi Kon

The visionary uniqueness of Satoshi Kon

Andrea Tuzio

When fantasy and reality intermingle to such an extent that the boundary that divides them almost completely blurs.
If one could encapsulate the poetics of the visionary Japanese director, screenwriter, illustrator and manga artist Satoshi Kon in one sentence, this is the one that – while extremely reductive because of his boundless talent and creative flair – comes closest to reality than any other.
His ability to shape the worlds he created in such a distinctive and recognizable way places him without any doubt among the greatest and most decisive anime directors ever.

Satoshi Kon was born in Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido, on October 12, 1963. He studied in his hometown, becoming a classmate and close friend of mangaka Seihō Takizawa, and while attending Hokkaido Kushiro Koryo High School, Kon realized that his aspiration was to become a cartoonist and work in the world of animation.

In 1982 he began attending the graphic design course at Tokyo’s Musashino Art University and, while still a student, made his debut as a manga artist with the short story entitled Toriko, earning the attentions of another giant of Japanese animation, Katsuhiro Ōtomo – the father of Akira for short, to which Kon will contribute – who will want him as his assistant. This connection would significantly mark the beginning of Kon’s career.

He finished his studies in 1987 and in 1990 wrote his first single-volume manga, titled Kaikisen, as well as writing the script for Ōtomo’s live-action, World Apartment Horror and, the following year, again for Ōtomo, he first worked as art director and animator on the film Roujin Z, written by the legendary mangaka himself.

The turning point in his career, however, came in 1992, when he worked, writing the screenplay, on Magnetic Rose – the first episode of the three that make up the animated film Memories, based on Ōtomo’s manga. Here Kon engages for the first time with what would become the hallmark of his storytelling and poetics within his works, the fusion of reality and fantasy.  

Some of his masterpieces, such as Perfect Blue (1997), Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Paprika (2006), represent a unicum in Japanese animation and a constant reference for contemporary cinema, inspiring such directors as Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan.

A true master of surrealism, of the erratic nature of storytelling, of the fleeting nature of memory, of the mutability of reality that never seems to be what it is, taking the viewer on a journey whose limits are absolutely unknown, trespassing into the oneiric and the fantastic despite the fact that realism is, however, always very present. The extreme sensitivity evident in Kon’s works and his fluid and unstable style make up a puzzle of genius and awareness, of uncompromising creativity and unparalleled vision. He moves away from Ōtomo’s extreme science fiction to embrace themes more related to Japanese tradition, such as nature and myth. Future and primordial mysteries are blended to perfection, thanks in part to a clean and realistic stroke, in contrast to what Japanese animation had expressed between the 1970s and 1980s.

Sadly, Satoshi Kon’s earthly journey ended prematurely on August 24, 2010, at the age of only 46, from pancreatic cancer. These are the words of farewell published shortly before his death on his website, entrusted to a post eloquently titled, Sayonara, speaking of his illness and the work, which he would never complete, that he was devoting to what would be his last feature film, entitled, Yumemiru Kikai:
“Filled with gratitude for all that is good in the world, I lay down my pen. With permission”.

Written by Andrea Tuzio
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