Obituary: Satoshi Kon, anime filmmaker

Satoshi Kon, anime filmmaker. Born: 12 October, 1963, in Hokkaido, Japan. Died: 24 August, 2010, in Tokyo, aged 46.

Satoshi Kon was a Japanese filmmaker and comic-book artist whose dazzling visual compositions and humane, emotionally resonant stories won him a devoted following in animation circles and beyond. He died at the age of 46 from pancreatic cancer.

While Kon's film work incorporated many familiar anime elements - pixie-like female characters, sensitive robots, futuristic cityscapes and an anxious fascination with the creative and destructive power of technology - it was also informed by literary, artistic and cinematic traditions.

Kon's second film, Millennium Actress, paid homage to masters of Japanese live-action film such as Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa, blending naturalism and fantasy to tell the story of a fictitious movie star in the years before and after the Second World War. His next film, Tokyo Godfathers, was loosely based on a 1948 John Ford western, Three Godfathers.

"He was part of a line of great Japanese humanist directors and writers," said Susan Napier, a professor of Japanese studies at the US's Tufts University. She linked Kon with Kurosawa, the great animator Hayao Miyazaki (who made Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke) and the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe.

Kon combined their characteristic social and ethical concerns - including sympathy for outsiders and a belief in the redemptive power of love - with a mischievous and wildly inventive visual style.

"He loved to play with the audience, to fool the audience," she said. "He would show one thing and then he'll make you realise that you aren't seeing what you think you're seeing. He loved to play with dreams, to play with the borders between the real and the fantastic."

This sensibility is apparent in the opening sequence of Paprika, the last film he completed. In a deceptively realistic scene of Tokyo traffic, billboards and video screens spring to life, and an enigmatic female figure - whose identity will turn out to be the key to the film's many existential puzzles - flows from one dimension of reality to another.

Satoshi Kon had intended to study painting and enrolled into art school, but in 2008, his interests soon shifted to illustration, and he began to draw the Japanese comics known as manga for Young magazine.

There he met Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the groundbreaking manga Akira, the 1988 film version of which remains a touchstone in the modern history of anime.

Kon worked as an animator on Hiroyuki Kitakubo's 1991 film, Rojin Z and contributed a script to Otomo's 1995 science-fiction anthology film, Memories. In 1998 he directed his first feature, Perfect Blue.