Satoshi Kon and 'Paranoia Agent': Remembering an Anime Master

Early this morning, rumors spread quickly on Twitter that Satoshi Kon, director of the acclaimed anime films Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue, had died. Soon, these reports were confirmed by Studio Madhouse's Masao Maruyama, through Jim Vowels of Baltimore anime convention Otakon, and reported by UK Anime Network. Kon died on August 23 at the age of 47. A recent report from Anime News Network indicates that Kon actually died on the morning of August 24 from pancreatic cancer and was 46.

Paranoia Agent
Paranoia Agent

Kon was a writer and director revered both within and outside of the anime fandom for creating beautiful pieces of animation that were as suspenseful as they were emotionally moving. Tokyo Godfathers was well-regarded for its exploration of homelessness. Paprika was a stunning adaptation of a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui dealing with therapists who enter people's dreams (it's a good companion piece for Inception). IMDB lists a fifth feature film, The Dreaming Machine, as in "pre-production."

When I heard of Kon's passing, I immediately began rewatching my Paranoia Agent DVDs. Though best known for his film work, Kon's foray into television, a thirteen-episode series that debuted in 2004, is essential viewing.

Paranoia Agent begins with a simple crime. Tsukiko Sagi, a young designer who is responsible for an immensely popular kawaii character, is walking at night when she is attacked by a boy on rollerblades wielding a baseball bat. This sparks both a police investigation and a media frenzy. As the series progresses, we glimpse into the lives of the people affected by the so-called Lil' Slugger.

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I first saw the show when it was airing on Adult Swim several years ago. It was the middle of the night and I was working on something else. The TV was only on for background noise, but from the moment Paranoia Agent began, it was hard not to take notice. There was a girl standing on the edge of a rooftop, shoes in hand, laughing as frantic electronic music played. One after the other, characters from the show appeared, all laughing, but not in a particularly happy way. Instead, it seemed like they were reacting to the oftentimes chaotic scenes surrounding them. This show, I thought, would have to be disturbing. It was and I was hooked.

Like much of Kon's work, Paranoia Agent delves into parts of the human experience that we might rather ignore. On one level, the series is about mass hysteria. On another level, though, it's about being confronted by situations that appear overwhelming. He wasn't just a talented writer and director, he was thought-provoking as well.

Kon had only four completed films and one television series amongst his directing credits (he had several more credits as a writer and animator), but each work was inventive and visually compelling. With his death, the film and television world has lost a true visionary.

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