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The Dreaming Machine: Ten Years Without Kon

In Memoriam of Satoshi Kon

Alexis Ibarra-Ibarra

Ten years ago, on August 24th, 2010, one of the greatest masters of anime passed away. He was young and full of talent and imagination, but cancer took his last breath. Paprika (2006) was the first Kon’s movie I watched, and, just as many before me, I realized that Inception (2010) was heavily inspired by this film, to say the least. The case of Paprika and Inception is like the case of Kimba, the White Lion (1965-1978) and The Lion King (1994). All are remarkable works, but the American counterparts were suspiciously similar to those Japanese works of art. I love Inception, and The Lion King, which is my favorite Disney movie by far. However, I must admit that American producers seem to have plagiarized some Intellectual Property right there, and even if their own productions were great and displayed some original ideas, they should have credited the Japanese creators.

There is a lot of debate on how much Nolan “borrowed” from Kon without giving him credit. I cannot state that Paprika invented the world in which Inception takes place because there are a lot of authors that probably created similar universes before; after all, Paprika itself is an adaptation of the book by Yasutaka Tsutsui in 1993). However, I can confidently say that some scenes from Paprika were blatantly copied, in terms of composition, by Nolan or his team. Maybe Paprika, the ginger girl, inceptioned Nolan during his sleep; that would explain everything, right?

Anyway, if you liked Inception, you should watch Kon’s movie mainly because of two things:

a) You will enjoy it.

b) You will have fun spotting the “casual” similarities.

If you have an alcohol problem or just like drinking games, you will have a blast playing “Paprika inceptioned Nolan THERE!”

If you are a shy introvert with no substance addictions, you can always ramble about “Who wore it better?” while in the shower.

Anyhow, Paprika is only one of his brilliant works. He directed Perfect Blue (1997), Millenium Actress (2001), and Tokyo Godfathers (2003). Sadly, he could not finish his last movie, The Dreaming Machine. He loved referencing his own animations by writing subtle texts on the background. In that regard, The Dreaming Machine got an explicit mention in one of his movies, but, now because of his death, his universe remains unsettlingly incomplete.

His stories and storytelling are truly unique and compelling. Perfect Blue explores fame, innocence, and madness. Millennium Actress delves into an extraordinary life driven only by the pursuit of love. Tokyo Godfathers reflects on kindness, luck, destiny, and the ones that are left behind. Paprika ponders the limits between reality and fiction, between the body and the mind, between reason and veiled lower passions. Just as Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon was mainly interested in portraying powerful female characters.

Kon was fascinated with masks and actresses, with the hidden truth, and the alter egos that constitute an essential part of the identity of every human being. He executed his ideas in cruel and hard-to-watch ways, but also in absurd comedy and wonder. This director, writer, and animator was a master in portraying both, beauty, and monstrosity. Moreover, he melted reality, science fiction, fantasy, and insanity, in one indivisible, magical world while displaying a remarkable and deep comprehension of human nature, culture, and history. You can certainly tell just by watching his movies that he enjoyed playing with the spectator, manipulating his emotions, changing from perspectives, eluding reason, and exploiting strong emotions.

As a visual artist, he managed to ingrain his rare and exceptional essence to the traditional Japanese animation style. The grotesque of human features and raw depiction of cities and towns, juxtaposed with the beauty and fragility of female characters, boosted the power of the story and the complex messages and created an unsettling yet balanced visual design and composition.

In 2008, he produced Ohayō, a one-minute short film about a daily situation filled with a mood we can all relate: the eerie feeling of waking up.

Alongside with Katsuhiro Ōtomo, he wrote World Apartment Horror (1991) and Magnetic Rose (1995), the first episode of the animated movie Memories (1995). I think Magnetic Rose is one of his best works: a brilliant film that melts reality with long-dead memories to create an unsettling and melancholic sci-fi, bio/cyber-punk world.

As an animator, he was in charge of the magnificent composition of Roujin Z (1991), and the design of scenes of Patlabor 2 (1992). He directed Paranoia Agent (2004), where he exposes and critiques some severe Japanese social problems in a very bizarre and intriguing way. In Paranoia Agent, he portrays the burdens of living up to your own success, dealing with a mental illness, bullying and the burden of and addiction to being part of the elite. He also talks about rape, pedophaelia and incest, the broken social ladder in Japan, homelessness linked to natural disasters, suicide pacts (in chats online), the anxiety of modern life, the complete devotion of Japanese wives to their husbands, repression, strict norms and family rules, and MANY other social, cultural, political, economic, individual, and human issues. ALL IN JUST ONE ANIME!

The main directive that gives structure to the story is the inability of the victims to cope with their pasts and embrace the future. Besides, it is interesting that the problems presented on each episode seem to find a relief in violence and pain.

The concept of each of his projects is stunningly crafted and impeccably executed. Satoshi Kon is one of those prodigious artists that prove that Anime, as a style and medium, holds the capacity to harbor fine art in the broad and narrow sense. Kon’s works of art are powerful and solid, and I highly recommend everyone to not only watch them but to contemplate them and reflect about their meaning.

On May 18th, 2010, Satoshi Kon went to the doctor with his wife and was told that he had only six months to live. Fulminant pancreatic cancer was the diagnose. He refused anti-cancer treatments and spent his very last months getting his things in order without revealing his health situation to almost anyone.

However, he wrote a long letter during his last days on this universe, and his family posted it on his blog, Kon’s Tone, after he died. I am not going to lie: it is heart-breaking, I could not prevent myself from crying a little. On this letter, you can read his soul, his personality, his regrets, and his perspective about life. He shows himself naked, as a beautiful, honest, formidable, and, at the same time, vulnerable and caring, human being. If you want to read a translation of that last statement, you can do it here.

The death of this terrific artist and human being was a significant loss for art and for the world. To close this article, I just want to quote the very last words of that final letter:

“So, to everyone who stuck with me through this long document, thank you. 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.

Satoshi Kon”

You will always be remembered. ❤

Have you watched any of Satoshi Kon’s masterpieces? Please share a slice of your opinion in the comment section below! The Cake is always thrilled to read about your thoughts!

If you liked this cake, share a slice with your friends!

Featured image taken from Asia Stage.

“Satoshi Kon” image taken from Cinefastos.

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