Monday, 25 January 2016

Review: Paprika

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster (Gateway, 2015)
  • Director: Satoshi Kon
  • Native Title: ăƒ‘ăƒ—ăƒȘă‚« (Papurika)
  • Primary Language: Japanese
  • Format: Animated, Colour
  • Year of Release: 2006
  • Budget: Unknown
  • Film Length: 90 minutes
  • Production Company: Madhouse, Sony Pictures Entertainment

  Released in 2006, Paprika is a Japanese animated feature film that explores the nature of dreaming, desire and unconscious fantasy. The story revolves around the efforts of Dr. Atsuko Chiba, a psychiatric scientist and her subconscious alter-ego Paprika as they and their colleagues at the Institute for Psychiatric Research investigate the theft of the DC Mini, a prototype device designed to read and codify dreams into a watchable format. However as a prototype, the DC Mini becomes a tool of sabotage as it is used to drive its users into an impulsive delirium, with more and more people join a strange supernatural parade that wanders though the dreamworld.

  The film juxtaposes the real world and the dream world with colour, detail and imagery. Much of the action in the real world takes place in the laboratories of the Institute, its offices, even the places Konakawa resides in such as his hotel room and his office are relatively plain. The film visits relatively few more colourful places and those that it does are connected to the dreamworld. But the dreamworld itself is vibrant, detailed, warm and full of things in the background. "The world of art and film, in comparison to the real world, is much more colorful and full of detail – according to the way dreams are portrayed in Paprika. It is full of inanimate objects and random – but dazzling – scenery. It is, perhaps, meant to express the pursuit many artists make for appreciating things otherwise unappreciated." (Mailloux, 2014). The parade is the best expression of this - it is loud, colourful, alive, full of nonsense, but yet it is not random. Depsite the sheer mass of detail, all of it tends to relate to what is happening or has some connection to a real-world detail. The room where Paprika is pinned to a table by giant pins holding down butterfly wings has every squire inch of the walls covered in framed butterfly collections. The luxurious dreamworld greenhouse the institute's Chairman is met in serves as a visual foreshadowing as he emerges from behind a bush with a tree trunk for legs. But this greenhouse wasn't random either; an earlier scene showed his office filled with plant life. The parade of objects that takes centre stage is a visual link to the institute assistant Himuro, the first suspected thief who had filled his flat from floor to ceiling with dolls.

Figure 2: Positively surrounded by metaphor. (Wagner, 2012)
  While the plot revolves hugely around the power of the dreamworld, there is a side element explored by the troubled recurring dream of local detective Toshimi Konakawa that plays out like a selection of greatest hits in cinema, with an ultimate agenda in mind. "Konakawa swings through a jungle on a vine like Tarzan, loincloth and all, only to end up tussling with a man in a genre thriller, inspiring one of the film’s most poignant philosophical riddles: Where do the movies end and our dreams begin?" (Dargis, 2007) as explored in the 2010 film Inception, dreams and movies often condense the entire event, skip the dull in-between parts of a story such as bathroom breaks, the journey to the event and often play out events that may challenge the realism of what is unfolding. In both film and dream, how realistically something plays out is often set aside for the sake of a message or the action.

Figure 3: Konakawa explaining the Line of Action within a cinema within a dream. (Tunbull, 2007)
  The setting aside of realism for the story to progress is a popular element of a number of Japanese animated productions. Paprika demonstrates the use of animation to convey a deeper metaphor. and there is plenty of metaphor present. While the exploration of Konakawa dreaming a series of films is one, a further example of this could be the film's investigation of the similarities in dreams and the internet. "Many references are made to dreams being similar to the internet in that it allows individuals to find dark corners of themselves that they did not think existed, particularly those parts that could drive them to become manically obsessed with certain things." (Wagner, 2012) This was an emerging concern back in 2006, but with the explosion of internet culture, the online gaming scene and the widespread adoption of internet personalities that have come in the decade since. The parade that wanders endlessly though the dreamworld, absorbing innocent people and turning them into walking speakers of a single message uncharacteristic of their real selves could reflect the spread of internet meme culture while the depiction of people being "lost" in the dreamspace (represented by way of the DC Minis displaying only static) could be reflective of the vegetative appearance people take on when completely immersed for several hours in media such as World of Warcraft or League of Legends. The transformations of citizens into objects during the finale could also reflect the brain's ability to (when no other evidence is present) assume the various forum trolls or abrasive gamers it witnesses behave in real life as they do in the game, requiring conscious input to conclude whether their mannerisms are a byproduct of the empowering effect of anonymity.

Figure 4: This film predates Android by two years and here we have schoolgirls and businessmen who have become their phones. (One Movie Each Day, 2012).
  A cautionary tale steeped in metaphor using visually stunning and highly meaningful imagery, Paprika is a dream exploration story that also examines the possible dangers that could come from running away with fantasy. It also explores unconscious desires or the possible vibrancy of a world that might exist hidden behind the mask of someone plain and a thematic connection to the similar natures of movies and dreaming.


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