Top 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Satoshi Kon

Director Satoshi Kon waves to the crowd at the Cinema Palace in Venice on September 2, 2006. Kon’s latest movie ‘Paprika’ is showing at the Venice film festival. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (ITALY)

I understand that I have a following from anime fans and some of my most-viewed posts of all time have something to do with Japanese animation. For me, I feel like I should apologize in some way because I haven’t done that many anime reviews this year. There were a few here and there as well as me mentioning some anime-related topics in a good portion of my Top 7 lists, but nowhere near as much as previous years. That’s not even getting into how insanely busy I’ve been in my life and dealing with some mental health issues over the past few months. I didn’t even have the motivation to cover a lot of anime series given how packed my schedule has been.

Time to change that about not having enough anime representation in 2021. Let’s get one of my favorite anime directors to have his own Top 7 list.

The late Satoshi Kon has been such an innovator in animation. Not just the Japanese scene, but worldwide. I was glad to complete the self-imposed challenge where I covered his directorial works. He has delivered his portfolio in so many ways. Whether it’s the psychological horror of Perfect Blue, the experimental slice-of-life Millennium Actress, the quirky yet touching drama of Tokyo Godfathers (also, one of the best remake movies and even Christmas movies ever!), or even the epic sci-fi swansong of Paprika, Kon has made high-quality works. Shoot, if Paranoia Agent is your worst directorial project (in my opinion), then you know you’re doing something right! Unfortunately, he died in 2010 and wasn’t able to release more films which is a shame. I usually say that if he was still alive, he’d bust out at least 5-8 great movies by now after Paprika. Speaking of that movie, I’m glad I’m not the only one who realized how original he was as well as how much Hollywood rips him off. If godforsaken Tinsel Town is copying your stuff, doesn’t that automatically make you great? There’s even a great article I read a while ago from Averie who talked about other copying Kon which I strongly recommend reading. There need to be more innovators in animation and Kon definitely needs to be in the conversation here. That’s for sure.

Here are some rules I have for this Top 7 list.

-No repeated information from my Fun Facts in my Satoshi Kon reviews.

-The facts are directly about Satoshi Kon or at the very least something he’s been involved with.

Now joining Yoshitoshi ABe, Ousmane Sembene, we now have another person added to my oeuvre of individuals who have their own Top 7 lists. Let’s go!

7: Satoshi Kon was born in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Not everyone’s originally from Tokyo when it comes to Japan, people! On October 12th, 1963, this innovative animator was born in this Northern Japanese city. Kon lived there for a good portion of his childhood and even lived in other parts of Hokkaido before moving to Tokyo later on in his career. Some of you might recognize the name of the city because of Sapporo Ichiban’s ramen which was inspired by the local noodles in this city. It is actually the prefectural capital of Hokkaido as well as the largest Japanese city North of Tokyo with over 1.9 million people living in the urban limits. Interestingly enough, it’s actually twinned with two American cities as it has international relations with Denver, CO, and Portland, OR. Back in 1972, Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympics which made it the first Asian city to host that event as well as one of two cities in that country to have it happen in the snowy season (the other one is Nagano in 1998 for those scoring at home). To some otaku out there, this is also the same city where seiyuu Rie Tanaka and Kaori Mizuhashi are from. Maybe Sapporo should make a statue of Satoshi Kon or even a museum featuring his work in that city. I’m sure that would be a wonderful tribute.

6: Satoshi Kon was also a manga-ka.

Kon certainly made a name for himself in animation, but he’s been in the field of graphic novels, too. That’s actually not common for someone to be in both fields at once since typically people are either in one discipline or another. He actually made some stories that never got adapted into anime such as Opus, Tropic of the Sea, and Toriko (no, not the Shonen Jump work with the chef). Not only that, but he even collaborated with Mamoru Oshii of all people with Seraphim: 266613336 Wings that sadly never got and never will be finished, but Dark Horse Comics of all companies brought it over here stateside. That’s just the stuff he wrote or co-wrote and not counting other manga that he got to lend his artistic skills for. Don’t worry, we’ll get to THAT example later on in this list and it’s going to make some minds explode given how well-known a certain series is.

5: That hilarious moment when you realize Gin from Tokyo Godfathers and Dr. Seijiro Inui from Paprika are voiced by the same person

I legitimately never noticed this with both movies. I knew some dub and sub actors were in multiple Satoshi Kon works, but I never picked up on this particular example. You see, veteran actor Toru Emori has mostly been in live-action movies for several decades, but the rare cases of him being a voice actor for anime happened in two of Kon’s films. That gruff estranged father with a habit of hitting the bottle from Tokyo Godfathers was played by the same guy who would eventually portray the cold-hearted villain who would use the dreamworld for his own gain in Paprika. Talk about playing characters with opposite circumstances as well as personalities when you consider that Emori got to play a lead protagonist and antagonist in two separate films. They don’t even sound alike so this made an even bigger surprise to me finding out about it. To be fair, Kon did get very talented voice actors for a lot of his movies, to major kudos to that.

4: Slaughterhouse-Five was a major influence on Millennium Actress.

I wasn’t even thinking about how Kurt Vonnegut or George Roy Hill would inspire Satoshi Kon while watching his movies, but after digging a little deeper, I could see some abstract parallels. Don’t get me wrong, Millennium Actress and Slaughterhouse-Five have totally different plots and situations (besides, Kon doesn’t strike me as someone who would rip off someone’s work), but there were some similarities I didn’t even think about. WWII is a backdrop in both of the main characters’ pasts, the feeling of being trapped in time plays a part in their respective character development, both have a point where they are hermits, and even outer space plays a role even if it is way more abstract with Chiyoko’s character. That is very creative in using influences the right way instead of stealing plot points or characters. Of course, I’ve ranted enough about how Hollywood steals from Satoshi Kon without crediting his work, but that was very insightful knowing something involving my favorite original screenplay of his.

3: Satoshi Kon was an uncredited artist for the Akira manga.

Okay, this fact legitimately surprised me when reading up on Satoshi Kon’s body of work and learning about his influences. I knew he’s collaborated with Katsuhiro Otomo before with Roujin Z and the Magnetic Rose segment of Memories (the best part of that anthology by a country mile, BTW), but him contributing to Akira was something that got my attention. Before he started doing his own thing, Kon admitted that Otomo was one of his biggest influences in anime and manga, so this must have been a dream for him to work for him with his most famous work let alone his future projects back then. Come to think of it, he WOULD want to work on something like Akira if anyone knows about Kon’s portfolio. Not only that, but he even said that if he could only adapt one manga ever it would be Otomo’s Domu of all things. There’s even an argument that Satoshi Kon wouldn’t be the guy he is if it wasn’t for this acclaimed manga-ka/animator, so this was very inspiring hearing more of the connections between these two creators.

Side note: Some of Satoshi Kon’s other favorite anime/manga creators involve Osamu Tezuka, Leiji Matsumoto, and Isao Takahata to name a few.

2: He was an episode director for the original JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime.

Satoshi Kon actually worked on a Shonen Jump-related project? I can’t wrap my mind around that fact and I would’ve never guessed that in a million years. To some of the younger anime fans out there, you may not know this, but JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure existed in animated form back in the 90s before it got a massively popular remake that covered multiple story arcs from the original manga. Shoot, I used to own the Dreamcast fighting game that Capcom made back in the day which existed over a decade before the anime got the remake treatment. There was an OVA that adapted Jotaro Kujo’s storyline and Satoshi Kon got to be in charge of episode 12 as well as doing art for episode 8. Keep in mind this happened before he would direct Perfect Blue later that same decade. The kicker of that whole situation is that Kon was handpicked to work on Perfect Blue precisely because of Madhouse co-founder (also the eventual founder of MAPPA, just saying) Masao Murayama liked that episode of JoJo that he directed! This is amazing. I guess if there was no JoJo, then Satoshi Kon wouldn’t have had an illustrious career in anime. Life can be so bizarre just like Hirohiko Araki’s titular series. Now, I’m trying to imagine what the infamous torture dance scene would look like if he took the animation helm of the remake. Hahaha!

1: Satoshi Kon got a Winsor McCay Award posthumously.

GE

Unless you’re knee-deep in the animation business, you probably have never heard of this particular accomplishment. For those that don’t know, the Winsor McCay Award is a lifetime achievement prize dedicated to the realm of animation and it’s one of the highest-ranked prizes in that field that’s not associated with the Oscars. Satoshi Kon won it years after he died, but he deserves it. Previous winners of that same award include the likes of Steven Spielberg, Don Bluth, Hayao Miyazaki, and even someone you never heard of called Walt Disney! Yeah, this is a really big deal here. Kon was part of the 2019 class and would get the award a year after the fact. I looked at who was in the same award class and my jaw dropped. Sadly, he wasn’t alive like the other people who won the same award that year. The other recipients include Henry Selick who is famous for directing James and the Giant Peach, Coraline, and even The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton was the producer, not the director of that movie). The other two involve longtime Disney animators John Musker and Ron Clements. Do you want to know what movies they’ve both co-directed in their four-decade-long career? The Great Mouse Detective, Aladdin, Hercules, Moana, The Princess and the Frog, and The Little Mermaid! Deep that one, readers. Satoshi Freaking Kon…the director of Perfect Blue, Paprika, and Tokyo Godfathers won the same accolade that three directors did that were responsible for mega-successful Disney movies in the same year. Of course, he wasn’t alive to appreciate it and part of me is sickened by this because how is it that Satoshi Kon is dead yet horrible people like Roman Polanski and Rob Lowe are still alive while having careers. I’m glad he got recognition, but I wish he would’ve had it instead of cancer. If he’s not in the conversation of creative animators and talked about in film academia, then shame on them who aren’t giving Kon his flowers. Don’t worry, I’ll be the one to make sure his work is remembered.

So what do you think? What are some other Satoshi Kon facts that you know? What is your favorite of his movies? What do you like about him?

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

The Satoshi Kon picture is from Outsider Japan.

The picture of Sapporo is from Tourlane and is property on Tourlane.

Opus is property of Satoshi Kon and Dark Horse Comics. The book cover is from Amazon and is property of Dark Horse Comics.

Tokyo Godfathers is property of Madhouse and GIKDS. The screenshot is from Anime Planet and is property of Madhouse and GKIDS.

Paprika is property of Madhouse and Sony Pictures Classics. The screenshot is from Anime Person and is property of Madhouse and GKIDS.

Slaughterhouse-Five is property of Kurt Vonnegut. The book cover is from Goodreads is property of Dial Press.

Akira is property of Katsuhiro Otomo and Kodansha. The art is from Comics Alliance and is property of Katsuhiro and Kodansha.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is property of Hirohiko Araki and Studio APPP. The GIF is from Know Your Meme and is property of Studio APPP.

The Satoshi Kon Winsor McCay award is from The Japan Times.

6 comments

  1. I love this post so much! I am such a huge admirer of Satoshi Kon and his work. I certainly did not know about Slaughterhouse Five’s influence on Millennium Actress, but now it makes sense. I have Opus on my to-be-read list and I cannot wait to dive into it. I have recently re-watched Memories and it blew me away all over again. You say Magnetic Rose is the best of the three? I agree, though Stink Bomb did also make me laugh so hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awesome! I’m glad you love the post. I’ve learned so much when I was preparing for this Top 7 list and I’ve enjoyed making more positive ones especially recently. The Slaughterhouse Five influence was something I would’ve never guessed since they have different plots, but I then saw the parallels when I stepped back. Same here with Opus let alone his other manga bibliography. Magnetic Rose was the one I enjoyed the most, but Stink Bomb was good in it’s own right with the satirical edge.

      Like

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