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26 Aug 2010

Satoshi Kon's last words

filed under: journal  :: anime  :: japanese culture  :: modern life

Satoshi Kon, the director of anime movies Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, Millenium Actress and Paprika, as well as the TV series Paranoia Agent, died on Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 at the age of 46. (NY Times obituary.) He left behind a rambling but extraordinary document, which his family has posthumously posted on his blog.

They're the last words of a supremely talented artist who knows he is dying very soon, with work left unfinished. It's been the talk of the Japanese internet, and it struck me deeply.

There is no official translation into English of the text, so I have translated it in its entirety, trying to keep the spirit and tone of the original. It is indeed rather long and rambling - he wrote it like that. I'm sure he didn't sit down to outline it before he wrote it. It's not authorized in any way, and if I receive objections from interested parties or see a formal translation up somewhere I'll take this down. (Note: as of April 2012 this hasn't happened, so chances are this is the only English version you'll ever see.) In any case, these are the words of a dying artist, waiting for his flight to come and transport him away.

Soon after I posted this translation, it was linked to by many sites worldwide. Several people translated it into other languages; you can find a list of the versions I know of at the bottom.

Translation notes:

  • I've taken the liberty of translating the name of the film he was working on, Yume Miru Kikai, as Dreaming Machine, since it has no formal English title.
  • He often refers to himself in the third person, as Satoshi or Satoshi Kon. I've left those in there. Otherwise I inserted 'I' 'we' where appropriate. As you may know, Japanese people don't use pronouns much when talking about themselves.
  • Tanabata is an annual event in Japan called the "star festival", normally a day of joy. Tanabata on Wikipedia.
  • Madhouse is the name of the animation studio that produced Satoshi Kon's movies. Official site.
  • The last sentence, his farewell, in Japanese is お先に (o-saki ni). This is something people say when they are leaving a place before other people - if you're going home from the office while people are still working for instance, you might say o-saki ni shitsurei shimasu (excuse me for leaving before you). So, he is essentially saying to the reader, "I have to go now, I'm leaving this world before you."

Added: Further language and cultural notes.

Added: 100 movies chosen by The Dreaming Machine team, one of the last things he posted.

Added: If you do a translation into another language based on my English text, please let me know so I can link to you on this page. Links to versions in other languages are at the bottom of this page.

=====================================

Sayonara (Goodbye)

How could I forget, May 18th of this year.

I received the following pronouncement from a cardiovascular doctor at Musashino Red Cross Hospital.

"It's the latter stages of pancreatic cancer. It's metastasized to several bones. You have at the most half a year left to live."

My wife and I listened together. It was a fate so unexpected and untenable, that the two of us together could barely take it.

I used to honestly think that "I can't help it if I die any day." Still, it was so sudden.

To be sure, there were some signs. 2 to 3 months before that I'd had strong pains in several places on my back and in the joints of my legs; I'd lost strength in my right leg and found it hard to walk, and I'd been going to an acupuncturist and a chiropractor, but I wasn't getting any better. So after having been examined in an MRI and a PET-CT and such advanced machinery, came the sudden pronouncement of the time I had left.

It was as if death had positioned itself right behind me before I knew it, and there was nothing I could do.

After the pronouncement, my wife and I researched ways to prolong my life. It was literally a life or death situation. We received the support of staunch friends and strong allies. I rejected anti-cancer medication, and tried to live with a view of the world slightly different from the norm. The fact that I rejected what was "expected (normal)" seemed to me to be very much like me.

I've never really felt that I belonged with the majority. It was the same for medical care, as with anything else. "Why not try to keep living according to my own principles!" However, as is the case when I'm trying to create a work [a film], ones willpower alone didn't do the job. The illness kept progressing day by day.

On the other hand, as a member of society, I do accept at least half of what society in general holds to be right. I do pay taxes. I'm far from being an upstanding citizen, but I am a full member of Japanese society. So, aside from the things I needed to do to prolong my life from my own point of view, I also attempted to do all the things necessary to "be ready to die properly". I don't think I managed to do it properly though. (But) one of the things I did was, with the cooperation of 2 friends that I could trust, set up a company to take care of things like the measly number of copyrights that I hold. Another thing that I did was, to insure that my wife would take over any modest assets that I had smoothly by writing a will. Of course, I didn't think there would be any fighting over my legacy or anything, but I wanted to make sure that my wife, who would remain behind in this world, would have nothing to worry about - and besides, I wanted to remove any anxiety from myself, the one who was going to take a little hop over there, before I had to leave.

The paperwork and research necessary for these tasks, which neither my wife nor I were good at doing, were taken care of speedily by wonderful friends. Later on, when I developed pneumonia and was at death's door, and put my final signature on the will, I thought that if I died right then and there, it couldn't be helped.

"Ah...I can die at last."

After all, I'd been brought by ambulance to the Musashino Red Cross Hospital 2 days before that; then brought back again to the same hospital by ambulance the day after. Even I had to be hospitalized and undergo many examinations. The result of those examinations: pneumonia, water in my chest, and when I asked the doctor [straight out], the answer I received was very businesslike, and I was in a way grateful for that.

"You may last 1 or 2 days...even if you survive this, you probably have until the end of the month."

As I listened, I thought "It's like he's telling me the weather forecast", but still the situation was dire.

That was July the 7th. It was a rather brutal Tanabata for sure.

So, I decided right there and then.

I wanted to die at home.

I might inconvenience the people around me, but I asked them to see how I could escape and go back home. [I was able to do so] thanks to my wife's efforts, the hospital's cooperation despite their position of having given up on me, the tremendous help of other medical facilities, and the coincidences that were so numerous that they only seemed to be gifts from heaven. I've never seen so many coincidences and events falling into place so neatly in real life, I could barely believe it. This wasn't Tokyo Godfathers after all.

While my wife was running around getting things in place for my escape, I was pleading with doctors "If I can go home for even half a day, there are things I can still do!", then waiting alone in the depressing hospital room for death. I was lonely, but this was what I was thinking.

"Maybe dying won't be so bad."

I didn't have any reasons for it, and perhaps I needed to think like that, but I was surprisingly calm and relaxed.

However, there was just one thought that was gnawing away at me.

"I don't want to die here..."

As I thought that, something moved out from the calendar on the wall and started to spread around the room.

"Oh dear, a line marching out from the calendar. My hallucinations aren't at all original."

I had to smile at the fact at my professional instincts were working even at times like this, but in any case I was probably the nearest to the land of the dead that I'd ever been at that point. I really felt death very close to me. [But] with the help of many people, I miraculously escaped Musashino Red Cross and came back home, wrapped up in the land of the dead and bedsheets.

I should emphasize that I have no criticism of or hatred for Musashino Red Cross Hospital, so don't misconstrue me.

I just wanted to go home to my own house. The house where I live.

I was a little surprised that, when I was being carried into my living room, as a bonus, I experienced that deathbed experience everyone is familiar with of "looking down on your body being carried into the room from a place high above". I was looking down on myself and the scene around me from a position several meters above ground, through a wide-angle-ish lens and flash lighting. The square of the bed in the middle of the room seemed very large and prominent, and my sheet-wrapped body was being lowered into the middle of the square. None too gently it seemed, but I'm not complaining.

So, all I had to do was to wait for death in my own home.

However.

It seems that I was able to overcome the pneumonia.

Eh?

I did think like this, in a way.

"I didn't manage to die! (laugh)"

Afterwards, when I could think of nothing else but death, I thought that I did indeed die once then. In the back of my mind, the word "reborn" wavered several times.

Amazingly, after then my life-force was rejuvenated. From the bottom of my heart, I believe this is due to the people who helped me; first and foremost my wife, and my supportive friends, the doctors and nurses, and the care managers.

Now that my life-force had been restarted, I couldn't waste my time. I told myself that I'd been given an extra life, and that I had to spend it carefully. So I thought that I wanted to erase at least one of the irresponsibilities that I'd left behind in this world.

To be truthful, I'd only told the people closest to me about the cancer. I hadn't even told my parents. In particular, because of various work-related complications, I couldn't say anything (to people) even if I wanted to. I wanted to announce my cancer on the internet and report on my remaining life, but if Satoshi's death was scheduled, there might be some waves made, however small. For these reasons, I acted very irresponsibly towards some people I know. I am so sorry.

There were so many people that I wanted to see before I died, to say even one word of greeting to. Family and relatives, old friends and classmates from elementary and middle and high school, the mates I met in college, the people I met in the manga world, with whom I exchanged so much inspiration, the people in the anime world whose desks I sat next to, went drinking with, with whom I competed on on the same works, the mates with whom I shared good and bad times. The countless people I was able to know because of my position as a film director, the people who call themselves my fans not only in Japan but around the world, the friends I'd made via the web.

There are so many people that I want to see at least once (well there are some I don't want to see too), but if I see them I'm afraid that that the thought that "I can never see this person again" will take me over, and that I wouldn't be able to greet death gracefully. Even if I had recovered, I had very little life force left, and it took a lot of effort to see people. The more people wanted to see me, the harder it was for me to see them. What irony. In addition, my lower body was paralyzed due to the cancer spreading to my bones, and I was prone on my bed, and I didn't want people to see my emaciated body. I wanted most of the people I knew to remember me as the Satoshi that was full of life.

I'd like to use this space to apologize to my relatives, friends and acquaintances, for not telling you about my cancer, for my irresponsibility. Please understand that this was Satoshi's selfish desire. I mean, Satoshi Kon was "that kind of guy". When I envision your faces, I only have good memories and remember (your) great smiles. Everyone, thank you for all the truly great memories. I loved the world I lived in. Just the fact that I can think that makes me happy.

The many people that I met throughout my lifetime, whether they were positive or negative, have helped to shape the human being that is Satoshi Kon, and I am grateful for all of those encounters. Even if the end result is an early death in my mid 40s, I've accepted this as my own unique destiny. I've had so many positive things happen to me after all.

The thing I think about death now. "I can only say, it's too bad." Really.

However, even though I can let go of many of my irresponsible actions [by not telling people], I cannot help regretting two things. About my parents, and about Madhouse [founder] Maruyama-san.

Even though it was rather late, there was no choice but to come clean with the whole truth. I wanted to beg them for forgiveness.

As soon as I saw Maruyama-san's face when he came to see me at home, I couldn't stop the flow of tears or my feeling of shame. "I'm so sorry, for ending up like this..." Maruyama-san said nothing, and just shook his head and gripped both my hands. I was filled with thankfulness. Feelings of gratitude and joy, that I'd been lucky enough to work with this person, came over me like a landslide. It may be selfish, but I felt as though I had been forgiven in that instant.

My biggest regret is the film "Dreaming Machine". I'm worried not only about the film itself, but about the staff with whom I was able to work with on the film. After all, there's a strong possibility that the storyboards that were created with (our) blood, sweat and tears will never be seen. This is because Satoshi Kon put his arms around the original story, the script, the characters and the settings, the sketches, the music...every single image. Of course there are things that I shared with the animation director, the art director and other staff [members], but basically most of the work can only be understood by Satoshi Kon. It's easy to say that it was my fault for arranging things this way, but from my point of view I made every effort to share my vision with others. However, in my current state I can only feel deep remorse for my inadequacies in these areas. I am really sorry to all of the staff. However, I want them to understand, if only a little bit. Satoshi Kon was "that kind of guy", and, that's why he was able to make rather weird anime that was a bit different. I know this is a selfish excuse, but think of my cancer and please forgive me.

I haven't been idly waiting for death, even now I'm thinking with my weak brain of ways to let the work live even after I am gone. But they are all shallow ideas. When I told Maruyama-san about my concerns about "Dreaming Machine", he just said "Don't worry. We'll figure out something, so don't worry."

I wept.

I wept uncontrollably.

Even with my previous movies, I've been so irresponsible with the productions and the budgets, but I always had Maruyama-san figure it out for me in the end.

This time is no different. I really haven't changed.

I was able to talk to my heart's content with Maruyama-san. Thanks to this, I was able to feel, at least a little, that Satoshi Kon's talents and skills were of some value in our industry.

"I regret losing your talent. I wish that you were able to leave it for us."

If Madhouse's Maruyama-san says that, I can go to the netherworld with a little bit of self-pride after all. And of course, even without anyone else telling me this, I do feel regret that my weird visions and ability to draw things in minute detail will be lost, but that can't be helped. I am grateful from the bottom of my heart that Maruyama-san gave me the opportunity to show the world these things. Thank you, so very much. Satoshi Kon was happy as an animation director.

It was so heartbreaking to tell my parents.

I'd really intended to go up to Sapporo, where my parents live, while I was still able to, but my illness progressed so unexpectedly and annoyingly fast that I ended up calling them on the telephone from the hospital room as I was closest to death.

"I'm in the late stages of cancer and will die soon. I was so happy being born as a child to you, Father and Mother. Thank you."

They must have been devastated to hear this out of the blue, but I was certain I was going to die right then.

But then I came back home and survived the pneumonia. I made the big decision to see my parents. They wanted to see me too. But it was going to be so hard to see them, and I didn't have the will to. But I wanted to see my parents' faces one last time. I wanted to tell them how grateful I was that they brought me into this world.

I've been a happy person. Even though I must apologize to my wife, my parents and all the people that I love, that lived out my life a bit too faster than most.

My parents followed my selfish wishes, and came the next day from Sapporo to my house. I can never forget the first words out of my mother's mouth when she saw me lying there.

"I'm so sorry, for not bringing you into this world with a stronger body!"

I was completely speechless.

I could only spend a short time with my parents, but that was enough. I had felt that if I saw their faces, that it would be enough, and it really turned out that way.

Thank you, Father, Mother. I am so happy that I was born into this world as the child of the both of you. My heart is full of memories and gratitude. Happiness itself is important, but I am so grateful that you taught me to appreciate happiness. Thank you, so very much .

It's so disrespectful to to die before ones parents, but in the last 10 plus years, I've been able to do what I want as an anime director, achieve my goals, and get some good reviews. I do feel regret that my films didn't make a lot of money, but I think they got what they deserved. In these last 10 plus years in particular I've felt as though I've lived more intensively than other people, and I think that my parents understood what was in my heart.

Because of the visits by Maruyama-san and my parents, I feel as though I've taken a big burden off my shoulders.

Lastly, to my wife, about whom I worry the most, but who has been my support until the end.

Since that time-left pronouncement, we drowned ourselves in tears together so many times. Every day was brutal for both of us, physically and mentally. There are almost no words for it. But the reason why I was able to survive those difficult days was because of the words that you said to me right after we received the news.

"I'll be at your side [run with you] until the end."

True to those words, as though you were leaving my worries in the dust, you skillfully directed the demands and requests that came rushing towards us like a landslide, and quickly learned how to take care of your husband. I was so moved, watching you deal with things so efficiently.

"My wife is awesome."

No need to keep saying that now, you say? No no. You are even more awesome now than you ever were - I truly feel this. Even after I have died, I believe that you will send Satoshi Kon to the next world with grace. Ever since we got married, I was so wrapped up in "Work, work" that I was only able to spend some time at home after the cancer - such a shame.

But you stood close to me, you always understood that I needed to immerse myself in my work, that my talent was there. I was happy. Truly happy. During my life, and as I wait for death, I just can't express my gratitude to you enough. Thank you.

There are so many things, countless things, that I worry about, but everything needs an end. Lastly, to Doctor H who agreed to see me to the end in my home, even though it's something not done these days, and his wife and nurse, K-san, I would like to express my deepest gratitude. Medical care in a private home is very inconvenient, but you patiently dealt with the numerous aches and pains that cancer brings on, and endeavored to make my time until the final goal called death be as comfortable as possible. I can't say how much you helped me. And you didn't just deal with this difficult and arrogant patient as if it were just your jobs, but communicated with me as human beings. I cannot say how much of a support you were to me, and how much you saved me. I was encouraged by your qualities as human beings several times. I am deeply deeply grateful.

And, this is really the last thing, but from shortly after I received that pronouncement in mid-May until now, I've been lucky to have the cooperation, help and mental support, both personally and in business, from 2 friends. My friend T, who has been a friend since high school and is a member of KON'Stone Inc, and producer H, I thank you both from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so much. It's hard for me with my measly vocabulary to express my gratitude adequately to you both. My wife and I have both received so much from you.

If you two hadn't been there for us, I am sure that I'd be anticipating death while looking at my wife here as she sits by my side with considerably more trepidation and worry. I am really in your debt.

And, if I may ask you for one more thing - could you help my wife send me over to the other side after my death? I'd be able to get on that flight with my mind at rest if you could do that for me. I ask this from my heart.

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

=======================


Other language versions, based on my English translation


(After 300+ comments, comments are now closed. Thanks, everyone.)

Comments on this post:

Satoshi Kon's existence is

Satoshi Kon's existence is proof that God exists ans loves us. Please know that your life was a shining beacon to anyone who loves beauty and truth. Godspeed on your unfathomable journey. We love and miss you.

thank you

Thank you for doing this. I've been living in a void these last few months had just learned of Santoshisan's death. This was wonderful.

Deeply thanks for your translation

I want to show you my deeply gratitude to you for translating this. My best friend and i are Satoshi-san's fan for long time. His sudden dead hit us so badly..

Since, there're also many other Satoshi-san's fans in my country, i would like to ask for your permision to translate the news into my mother language (Vietnam). If you agree, pls sent me an email via: scorpion.haochen@yahoo.com.

I hope that you will allow me to do something for Satoshi-san. I'll sent you the link of my version when i finish translating.

Finally. Many thanks for your work.

this moved me to tears :(

...i will always remember him as the one who directed "Tokyo Godfathers". I like it so much!

His last words inspired me that I'll write mine soon(no! no! i'm not dying). i just feel like it's the time to write something like this.

sayonara satoshi-kun!
may God embraced you in HIS loving arms!

I'm so glad you translated

I'm so glad you translated his final message even though it brought great sadness to me.

thank you for everything

Your work will always amaze and confound me and make me angry that I will never be as clever as you were. It's had a big impact on my life and this is the first time I've cried at the loss of an artist for a very long time. I only hope that 'The Dream Machine' matches what you intended as I await it with sadness in my heart. The 'Ichi' episode of Paranoia Agent is one of the greatest single episodes of any TV show. Love to you, your wife and family.

Farewell, Satoshi Kon

It is a horrid shame to lose such an amazing talent to cancer. I'll always fondly remember the fruits of his labor and how they truly impacted my life and psyche. He is a master of storytelling, suspense and madness. I only hope that his spirit rests well and perhaps ignites the same quirky passion in all those whom he's touched. Good luck, Satoshi.

My favorite of his...

Satoshi Kon's amazing visions and blending of reality and unreality was unlike any I have seen, and his series 'Paranoia Agent' was astounding in it's originality, art, and pure refusal to conform to the 'norm'. His creations were thought-provoking, unexpected in direction, and artistically a joy. especially with his way of showing the 'real people' of the world. So many other animators only have 'beautiful people' in their series, or downplay any that don't qualify, but his works gloried in the average, normal, old, fat, wise and foolish of real life, while still playing out amazing stories with heart-warming tones, and smooth humor.
It is truly a shame that we will not get to see any more of his unique visions, and will no longer be able to say '...a new Satoshi Kon? Wonder what he'll do this time...' (always said with a smile of anticipation)
He has taken the journey we will all take in our own time, and so I say 'Fair winds, and smooth journey - I hope we can meet on that distant shore. Farewell, Satoshi Kon... You have touched our hearts, and will not be forgotten.'

Satoshi Kon was truly a

Satoshi Kon was truly a special being. It is sad to see him go, but it is impossible for him to dissapear as he has left so many wonderful pieces of himself and his thoughts through his work. Thank you, Satoshi, for all you have given us.

i may sugest a movie to you

i may sugest a movie to you all:

Nosso Lar

You inspire me to be great.

You inspire me to be great. Thank you so much.

"I do feel regret that my

"I do feel regret that my films didn't make a lot of money..."

Satoshisan forgive that i havent bought your film but downloaded it. Forgive me... I am but a thief

sorrow/realization

I feel I have to reevaluate my goals after reading about your struggles. Your passing reminded me of "Reinhard Von Loehgramm" He died at 27 but accomplished so much.You're 20 years older than me but did so much and in my stage of life You were still young.You stayed yourself all the way to the end and yet I diverge from my true self.Thank you for the lesson. Its time for me to put it in practice. May Heaven Bless you and your family and all others who loved and admire you. You touched countless individuals with your works.I thank you again.

Thank you

Mr. Satoshi Kon you helped me get through some very tough times in my life -
and i ended up writting my college essay about you to get into one of the best art
schools in the nation. you are an inspiration to us all. thank you for sharing your
gift with me, thank you!

Thank you for your hard work Makiko-san

It's nice to be able to read his last words in my native language. It was such a sudden death and I only got wind of it recently though it's been over a month. I'm glad to have been able to read this beautiful narrative and thank you for your work in translating it.

Kon-sensei, thank you so much

Kon-sensei, thank you so much for sharing your "weird ideas" with all of us. Tokyo Godfathers in particular has a special place in my heart.

From Lebanon

Thank you so much for the translation,

Mr. Satochi Kon thank you for the amazing and inspirational work you left.

Thank you for posting this. I

Thank you for posting this. I was very moved by his last words.
Have a good flight Mr Satoshi Kon.

Thank you for translating this....

I was in tears from the very first paragraph of you blog, and right through to the end. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Thank you.

This is kinda sad, of course.

This is kinda sad, of course. But necessary. The way life begins...the way it ends. We all die sooner or later. He left behind gifts. What shall we do with these?

If it is known that he left

If it is known that he left the gifts then it is no question as to what will be done. I hope the Dreaming Machine will be presented. It will be closure to the remarkable work he has done. Not everyone is able to understand the [alternaity] of it.

Thank you

Truely touching. I'm glad he led a good and happy (if all too short) life. Thoughts with his family, loved ones and friends.

Thank you for an awesome

Thank you for an awesome translation!

I feel sad and heartfelt after reading that. I was always a small fan of him after I saw Tokyo Godfathers, but never saw much more. I didn't think much of him from Millenium Actress' background interview. But he's redeemed himself in this, and I do want to see Perfect Blue, Paprika and Paranormal Agent.

Thank you again. I will miss him.

Thnx.

A very nice letter, from someone with a great sense of duty and humility.

I hope the movie continues, and that your relatives and friends are comforted knowing that you loved them and the life you all shared. It may be that some life's are shorter than others, but in the end it's all about how you live it.

Go with God my friend.
Yoron.

Here is a shabby haiku in

Here is a shabby haiku in salute to the man whose films I prescribe to my friends who do not like anime.

If girls could not run
Director Satoshi Kon
would be unemployed

Farewell, our dear friend. I hope to see you while I am engaging in lucid dreaming!

What a humble, gentle man.

What a humble, gentle man. Truly a great loss.

thank you arigato tack

i'd kiss you if i saw you! thanks for translating this.

I saw and listened to satoshi kon when he was in stockholm a couple of years ago. Didn't have anything for him to sign but afterwards i begged his helper to get the poster (two a3 sheets taped together with a a4 print from tokyo godfathers.) I framed it as soon as i got home, well, the next day, 'cause it was late. I remember him talking about his next project, how it was supposed to be without people (humans) and only things like robots...

i will miss you satoshi kon, thank you for all your fantastic work, your passion for creating and your wisdom. see you where the planes land, wherever that may be. i'll bring pens!

/max

Thank you.

Thank you very much for posting this farewell from Satoshi Kon. I am grateful that he shared his visions with all of us and grateful to you for allowing us to share in his farewell.

Thanks

The day Satoshi Kon died was terrible for me... I shared my sadness with some friends who (like me) were enlightened by his wonderfoul works. It took some time for me to recover and now I have read his last words and the sadness comes back to me...

Thank you very much for the translation... De cualquier manera, un artista como él sobrevivirá en su obra, en sus películas y en el amor que le puso a cada cosa que realizó. Que en paz descanse.

Thank you

Writer from New York here. Deeply affected by each of Satoshi Kon's films - he was possibly my favorite of all directors and such a spirit. Thank you very much for translating the letter for us English speakers.

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