Anime director Satoshi Kon passed away on August 24, 2010, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier that year. Kon was famous for his anime movies: PERFECT BLUE, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprica. His death was felt by the entire anime community. Many, including myself, wept upon reading his last words, written on his deathbed.
Upon his death, Kon was in the process of developing his new movie, Yumemiru Kikai (Machine That Dreams). In his final words, Kon wrote about his final meeting with then-Mad House President, Masao Maruyama. During their last tearful meeting, Maruyama promised the dying director that Machine That Dreams would be made.
Sadly, Maruyama was unable to fulfil that promise. In July of 2011, Maruyama announced that the project had been put on hold. The biggest reason for this turn of events was the lack of funds. Around 600 scenes of the movie had been completed, but still around 900 scenes remained. Maruyama stated that he would try to gather the necessary money to deliver the finished product to people, no matter how many years it would take.
After the project was put on hold, the official website for Machine That Dreams remained up. However, as of this year, the official site has gone down and the domain (http://yume-robo.com) is in a redemption period, meaning it will expire soon.
Coincidentally enough, Machine That Dreams is a story about a city that is destroyed by a tsunami (Director Kon thought up the story two years before the earthquake and tsunami in 2011), and a robot that goes on a journey in search of energy. The story would be about the rebuilding of a city ravaged by natural disaster, a story that a lot of Japanese people would probably really want to see, especially with the events that have occurred since Kon's death.
Hopefully, the project will someday see the light of day. I don't know if machines can dream, but I certainly can.
Here is a rough translation of Satoshi Kon's last words (Due to language limitations, some nuances have been lost in translation):
Wednesday, August 25th 2010
May 18th was a day I could never forget. I was told the following by a circulatory specialist at the Musashino Red Cross hospital:
"Terminal pancreatic cancer that has spread to the bone marrow. Half a year at the most."
I heard it with my wife. It was a sudden and unfair fate that was too large for the both of us. I had always held the belief that "It couldn't be helped if I were to die at any moment." Yet even so, it was all too sudden.
I guess there were signs. From a few months prior, I had felt pain in my back and at the base of my thighs; there were times when I couldn't move my right leg, when I had trouble walking… I had gone to a moxibustionist and a chiropractor, but nothing seemed to work. Then, after an MRI, a PET scan and a complete physical, I was told that I was to come to an end.
Being suddenly brought to awareness of the approaching death at my heels, there was nothing I could do. After the announcement, my wife and I looked for ways that I might survive. It was a desperate attempt. I was supported by friends and powerful individuals. I refused anticancer drugs and sought to live on with a somewhat different perspective than society at large. I think turning my back on "the norm" was more to my character. I don't think there has ever been a place for me in the majority anyways. Why should it be any different in a medical sense? Through my own ways I've found what goes on behind the makings of the present day medical majority.
"I'm going to live on with the world-view I've chosen."
But, much like the process of creating, there are some things that can't be done through will alone. As each day passed, my symptoms got worse.
On the other hand, as a member of society, I have lived my life somewhat according to the values and standards of society. I pay my taxes. While I may not be the model citizen, I am still a member of society. So, separate from my own world-view I chose to live in, I tried to make the "proper arrangements." (I probably wasn't very successful.)
One was to create a company to manage the copyrights, meager as they may be, with the help of two friends I trust. Another was to write a will to distribute what little wealth I had accumulated amongst my family. It's unlikely any battles over inheritance would have happened, but at the very least I wanted to remove any anxiety I could from my wife whom I would be leaving in this world, and perhaps in doing so, allow myself a little relief as I travel onward.
Thanks to my wonderful friends, we were able to quickly get through all the paperwork that my wife and I tend to have such difficulty doing. Shortly after, as I lay close to death and groggy with pneumonia, I signed my will and figured that death had come.
"And now… I can die."
I'd been brought in to the hospital 2 days before because of complications, and now, 2 days later, I was back again. I was put through a rigorous and thorough checkup. I had accumulated quite a bit of fluid in my lungs. I asked my doctor to be honest and the textbook report he gave me was a relief in its own way. "A day, maybe two. Even if you get past this, you probably have less than a month." I thought to myself, "it's like a weather report." Though in reality, the situation was far more dire. That was the 7th of July. It was quite a gruelling day to celebrate the Star Festival.
But it helped me make up my mind. I want to die in my own home. As much as an inconvenience it may have turned out to be for those around me, I sought a way to get back to my home.
It was a combination of my wife's efforts, the hospital's exasperation, the generous support of other medical facilities and numerous coincidences that could only be described as divine intervention. I never would have thought that coincidence and inevitability could fit together so perfectly in real life. It was like I was in my own version of Tokyo Godfathers.
While my wife ran around trying to get things in order so that I might escape, I would plead with my doctor, "If I could return home for just a day, even half a day, there are still things I could do!" after which I would lay in my gloomy hospital room and wait for death to claim me. And yet, as disheartened as I was, I would still think:
"Dying might not be so bad after all."
It's not like I had a reason to think that way. Perhaps I felt I needed to think that. Either way, I was surprisingly calm about my fate. There was just one thing I couldn't get over…
"I don't want to die in this place."
As I stared at the calendar on the wall, something seemed to come forth and fill my room.
"Typical… A parade coming out of a calendar. Even my hallucinations are lacking in originality."
I found comfort in the fact that even at a time like this, my professional mind was still at work. And yet, I may have been closer to death than I had ever been before. I could almost feel it. Thanks to the efforts of those who worked tirelessly as I lay between my sheets and death, I was able to escape the Musashino Red Cross and find my way back home again. Dying isn't easy — I'd like to point out that this not any sort of criticism towards the Musashino Red Cross. I just wanted to be home. The home where I live.
Being carried into the living room, I had the famous "Seeing yourself from above as you're being carried" out-of-body experience. From a few meters above, I could see that myself and my surrounding is a panoramic long shot. The rectangular bed in the middle of the room looked large and I saw myself lain on that rectangle wrapped in sheets. From above, it didn't look very graceful, but I'm not complaining.
Now all that was left was to wait for death in my home. However… Apparently I made it past the pneumonia quite smoothly. Huh? I thought to myself,
"I guess I missed the bus."
After that, I was only able to think about death. I'm quite certain that I did actually die once. As I swam between consciousness and the other side, the word "reborn" seemed to flicker a few times. And, strangely enough, the next day, my spirit felt somewhat rejuvenated.. I truly believe it was because of all the people who came beside me to wish me well. From my wife to my friends, my doctors and nurses and caretakers.
With a new lease on life, I couldn't just lie around. It was an extension that was not to be wasted. I thought that I should take care of as many obligations as I could. I had only told a few people around me about my cancer. I hadn't even informed my parents.
With all the strings and burdens of my work, I had never been able to tell them. I had wanted to let people know on the internet that I had cancer and write about my last days, but, the news that Satoshi Kon was going to die would have had caused some sense of alarm, as small as it may have been, that made me apprehensive. As a result, I had left many of my closest friends in the dark, and for that I felt a great sense of guilt.
Before I die, there are so many people I want to see and talk to at least once. Family and relatives, friends from elementary and junior high, high school and college, people I shared experiences with in the manga business, people who I worked with in the anime business, who sat next to me, drank with me and worked with me on the same projects, the numerous people I was able to meet as a director, the countless people across the world who would call themselves my fans. Even the friends I met on the internet.
There were so many people I wanted to see (and a few I would rather not), but I was also afraid that by seeing them, the knowledge that this would be the last time might make me lose my nerve to face my own death. Rejuvenated as I was, I had only so much left in me, and saying goodbye takes a great deal of resolve. It's ironic. The more you want to see someone, the harder it is.
I also didn't want people to see me like this. Thanks to the cancer spreading to my bones, I was bedridden, with my lower body almost completely paralysed. I wanted people to remember me as the healthy Satoshi.
To the relatives I never told, to all my friends and those who knew me, I would like to take this moment to apologise to you all. But I ask that you understand my selfishness. Those who have met me will attest that that was the sort of man I was. Remember my face and the good times I was able to bring. Thank you all for the wonderful memories. I love this world I was able to inhabit. I was blessed that I could feel this way.
For better or for worse, the few people I've met through my life have all helped make me who I am and I am grateful for that. And though I am to die in my mid-forties, it is a fate that is mine and mine only. I was still able to experience so much. Looking at death now, I think to myself
"It's such a shame."
It really is.
But of all the obligations that I had been unable to fulfil, there were two that stuck with me. My parents and Mr. Maruyama from Mad House. The people who gave birth to Satoshi Kon the man, and the person who gave birth to Satoshi Kon, the director. As late as I was, I felt I had to let them know. I was wracked with guilt.
When Mr. Maruyama came to see me, I couldn't stop myself from crying.
"I'm sorry, I've been reduced to this…"
Mr. Maruyama didn't say a word. He just shook his head and held my hands. I was so grateful. Words could not express the sheer gratitude I felt for being given the chance to work with this man. It may sound like an exaggeration, but that is how I felt. It was like I had been absolved in an instant.
I was still worried about the movie "Yumemiru Kikai" (Machine That Dreams). Not just the movie, but the staff who had participated in its creation. At worst, all the work and effort that everyone had put into the project would be for nothing. After all, the script, the character and word design, the storyboard, the musical atmosphere… Everything had been centered on me.
There was a great deal that I had shared with the art director and other staff, but there was too much that couldn't be done without my supervision. It could be said that this situation was my fault, but I honestly had made an effort to share my vision. Even so, leaving things like this pained me very much.
I regret my unfairness to the staff. But, I hope they understand. It's because I'm "that guy" that I was able to make the somewhat abnormal animations that I did. Maybe I'm full of myself, or maybe that's just the cancer talking.
It's not as though I just lay around waiting to die. I tried to figure out some way that what I sought to create had not been in vain. But I had come up empty. I told Mr. Maruyama about my concerns for Machine That Dreams and he looked at me and said "It's all right. We'll make it happen, so don't you worry about it."
I cried. I cried like a baby.
Every time I had made a movie or just put together a budget, I had caused such a hassle, and every time Mr. Maruyama had pulled strings to bring things together. And now, once again… I hadn't made an inch of progress. I was now given the time to talk with Mr. Maruyama as much as I wanted. He made me realise that my techniques and accomplishments were actually of some value.
I wish I could leave my talent behind for the world. After all, the word of Mr. Maruyama of the Mad House is enough of a badge of pride to take to the grave. I suppose I shouldn't have to be told that it's a shame that the world should lose a quirky mind and some cinematography techniques, but these things happen. I'm just grateful for being given the chance by Mr. Maruyama to be able to show these things to the world. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Satoshi Kon the animation director was blessed.
Telling my parents was truly painful. I had intended to visit my parents in Sapporo and tell them in person while I was still on my feet, but my illness progressed at an inconsiderate speed and I had wound up telling them over a sudden phone call from the hospital.
"I'm going to die of cancer soon. I'm glad that I was born your son. Thank you."
I can hardly imagine what it must be like to be on the receiving end of such news, but at the time, I was on my deathbed. So, after returning home and overcoming my pneumonia, I scrounged up the nerve and decided to see my parents. I was sure my parents would want to see me. I knew it would be hard and that I probably didn't have the strength in me to see them, but I wanted to see them one more time. I wanted to thank them for bringing me into this world.
I was happy. I did feel a pang of guilt to my wife, my parents and all the people who loved me for speeding through my life a little too quickly. My parents welcomed my selfish request and the next day they arrived all the way from
Sapporo. I won't forget what my mother, seeing me bedridden, said. "I'm so sorry that I couldn't have made you stronger!" I couldn't say anything.
I spent only a short while with my parents, but it was enough. I thought that if I could see their faces then it would be enough, and it was. Thank you, father. Thank you, mother. Being born your son was the greatest gift of all. My heart is filled with the uncountable memories and gratitude. The gift of being born was important, but I will never be able to thank you enough for raising me to be able to appreciate that gift. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I know that leaving this world before my parents makes me a bad son, but over the past 10 years, as an animation director, I was able to spread my wings, achieve my own goals and gain respect. It's a pity I wasn't able to gain a little more popularity, but all in all, I think it balances out. Especially over the past decade or so, I've lived a far more dense life than most people, so I think my parents understand.
Having had the chance to talk to my parents and Mr. Maruyama, a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
Lastly, to the one who has been there for me until this end and who I worry about the most: my wife. You cried for me many times after learning of my fate. Together we were taxed both physically and mentally. Words cannot describe what we endured. But I believe the reason I've been able to make it this far is because of what you told me right after we were told my diagnosis. "I promise to stand beside you no matter what."
And just as you promised, despite my fears and worries, I would watch in amazement as you worked steadily through the rush of demands and bills and learned through imitation how to care for your dying husband.
"My wife is an amazing woman."
Stop flattering you, you say? I'm just realising what I've always known. I'm sure that after I'm gone, you'll send me on my way in a dignified and loving manner.
Looking back, after we got married, every day was "work, work, work." It's ironic that the first time I get to sit back and spend some decent time at home is because of cancer. But you saw and understood first hand that I was one who dives into his work and that that is where my talent comes from. I'm truly a lucky man. Be it living or dying, no matter how grateful I am, I don't feel like I'm grateful enough. Thank you.
There are still things on my mind, but once you start counting, it'll never end. And all things must have an ending. I'd like to express my gratitude to Dr. H and his wife, nurse F, who took on the uneasy role of end of life care providers. They worked patiently in an environment ill suited for medical purposes to ease my pain, and their efforts to make my final days a little easier were truly a godsend. Words cannot express my wife's and my own gratitude for their going beyond the call of duty to support and treat with respect an egotistical boor of a patient like myself. They gave us strength. I am truly, truly thankful.
And lastly, to the two friends who, almost immediately after my diagnosis in May, helped me and gave me such moral support. To the members of the company KON' STONE who have been my friends since high school, my friend Mr. T and producer Mr. H, I thank you. Thank you ever so much. It's hard to find the words in my limited vocabulary to describe all the ways in which you helped me and my wife. And, if it isn't too much trouble, after I'm gone, would you help my wife with the funeral preparations? I'll rest easy knowing things are in your hands. Thank you in advance.
And to everyone who has stuck around with me until this end: Thank you.
With gratitude to all that is good in the world, I now lower my pen.
I guess I'll be off now.