Sad news from Japan: Animated film director Satoshi Kon has died of pancreatic cancer at age 47. At first it appeared that the news was some cruel Internet hoax, but his animation studio has confirmed his death.
Many great artists die with their best work decades behind them, but it’s especially sad when a great artist dies in glorious mid-career, the work still vital and innovative and keeping us guessing as to what will come next. I saw three of his films, and two of them made my lists of the best movies of 2003 and 2007. Reportedly he was working on another film called The Dreaming Machine that’s due to be released in Japan later this year. That’s the best I can tell, though perhaps one of our Japanese-proficient readers with a Japanese-language web browser can read the movie’s website and give us more precise news.
What made Satoshi Kon so special? He was one of the few anime directors whose work was recognized by mainstream critics. His movies borrowed some elements from the candy-colored fantasies of Hayao Miyazaki and the convulsive apocalyptic fare of Katsuhiro Ôtomo, but he developed a visually lush style all his own. His films frequently commented on the dreamlike nature of cinema (I wonder whether he got to see Inception), making profound statements about memory and the way movies shape our thought processes. Yet for all the sophistication of their storytelling, his movies had visceral power, too: Check the parade of toys that threatens to consume the world in Paprika. It’s so cute, and yet it’s also terrifying and demented.