Existing almost as a footnote at the end of Emily’s previous post about Studio Ghibli, she mentioned watching Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue. So I thought I would follow up with an account of the most mind-blowing animation I have ever seen – Paprika, by Satoshi Kon.
Quick plot summary: a device has been invented that allows the user to enter someone’s dream. Only intended to be used by therapists to help patients, it all goes wrong when the device is stolen and slowly dreams seem to merge with reality. This leads to increasing chaos with scientists throwing themselves off balconies and giant dolls smashing their way around Tokyo. Paprika, or Dr. Chiba, is the hero of the story, entering dreams as she attempts to reclaim the device and end the madness of the dreamscape taking over Japan. Is Paprika a standard superhero story, or is it a moral tale warning against the dangers of technology? Who knows? Who cares when it looks this good!
The storyline is quite confusing, and I admit I had to pause at times to figure out was going on, but the visuals certainly make up for it. The film relies mainly on hand drawn scenes and a sparing use of CGI – which for any animated feature length film is impressive – but given the scale and multitude of layers this film attempts visually, it is all the more stunning. No detail is spared. The best example of Paprika’s visual magnitude is the parade that marches through Tokyo.
Moving household objects, dolls, toys and statues, make their way down the streets, sucking ordinary people into their surreal mass as they pass. This is all happening alongside a booming soundtrack of a marching band, coming together to give your senses an absolute riot. This scene in particular also has some very specific cultural references that a Western audience might not pick up upon. Those moving household objects and strange creatures that are seen in the parade are references to Shinto gods and spirits and the Japanese belief in animism.
While Western animation typically has that sugary appeal to it, animated films from the East, especially Japan, can have a much darker edge to them. As seen in the more widely popular Miyazaki film Princess Mononoke, often these films have a message, often about the dangers of humans themselves, and moments where it does make you uncomfortable to watch. In Paprika, this occurs at various moments and for various reasons. In one gruesome and darkly sexual scene, Paprika’s body is literally torn in half to reveal Dr. Chiba inside. Not exactly Disney’s Snow White. In this instance sexual harassment from one of her male colleagues has been taken to a whole new level.
Satoshi Kon spoke about this difference between East and West and their approach to animation, as well as expanding on his reasons for creating more disturbing animations than people are perhaps used to:
“On television and through the Internet people are being seduced by the sweetness of illusion and the sweetness of dreams. It is necessary to have that relief, because without it life is too difficult. But I think the amount of fantasy that people are being fed through the media has become disproportionate. I believe in a balance between real life and imagination. Anime should not be just another means of escape.” (You can read more here).
This film would make any animation sceptic change their mind and renounce their sins. Paprika is a masterclass in animation, and a stunning representation of what these artists – because that is what they are – are capable of.
Molly Ernestine Boiling