1963 — 2010
When artists pass from this world, it speaks to the power of their work and demonstrates that they have infiltrated hearts and minds, if the audience hearing that sorrowful news reflexively filters it through the mental lens of that art. Which is to say:
This scene from Kon's OVA Perfect Blue (1998) was the first thought to flash through my head upon hearing of the August 24th death of the animator, director, and cartoonist. This is partly because of the literal content of the scene, in which tarnished pop star turned terrorized actress Mima has just discovered the demise of her entire aquarium of fish. But it is also because this has always struck me as a well-animated crying scene, and crying is notoriously difficult to animate. And all this because among Kon's four features as director, his first, Perfect Blue, remains my favorite. At first pass the unconventional psychothriller meditation on female identity and celebrity culture seemed joltingly Argento-esque, pro-critics tended to invoke Hitchcock and... don't forget we're talking about cartoons here. As soon as Millennium Actress (2001) appeared it was clear that what Perfect Blue is simply a Satoshi Kon film.
If there is one painful, unpronounceable word above, it is "four." Four features, one TV series, assorted animation tasks. Kon's death at 46 (nearly the same age as Whisper of the Heart director Yoshifumi Kondō) leaves us with a frustratingly small body of work. Frustrating not because it is inadequate, but because it is remarkable enough that one cannot help but want more. Every one of Kon's films is an increasingly ambitious technical and storytelling challenge. Satoshi Kon made films expansive of imagination and personal of preoccupation, pushed the boundaries of his medium and tried to break, dodge, and stand out from certain clichés, prejudices and lazy habits of the Japanese animation industry. It is that ambition to blow an audience's mind with sights they have not seen and will not forget that separates Kon's work, and, one hopes, will be the inspirational legacy of his films.
As I always feel lacking during such moments, I direct interested persons to this appreciation and 2003 interview by Brian Camp. The discussion mainly concerns Tokyo Godfathers, but manages to cover several key and under-examined aspects of Kon's films, such as the realer-than-truth documentary qualities possible in animation, and his dedication to visual depiction of Japanese characters that look Japanese.
Further reading at Midnight Eye, a pair of interviews regarding Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress and Paprika.
And so, still feeling lacking, I must allow the artist final say in these matters: