Recently, there was a film director who passed away. His name was Satoshi Kon. He was quite a famous director, but his death didn’t initially caught on with me. He directed a lot of animated works, but they’re not quite of the Miyazaki or Disney kind of animation. Rather, his anime work more close resembles the kind of works that is a direct statement and challenge on society, and sometimes both at the same time. ‘Ghost in the Shell’, ‘Akira’, and ‘Metropolis’ are just a few of these kinds of works churned out by Japanese animators every year.
However, getting back to the point, the name didn’t quite click with me as it had with other film-related deaths. There was a small sound of recognition, but I couldn’t quite place it as I see his name splashed across the news section on IMDB’s home page. And then I realised: Satoshi Kon is the director of ‘Paprika’, a film I had only seen a few nights ago.
The reason why it stuck in my head wasn’t really the fact that I had seen the film. Rather, it was what happened after. I have a tendency of going online after every film I see and devour every single thing I can about the film in question. The more I like the film, the more I try to find out about it. It was here that the name Satoshi Kon kept popping up over and over again. Of course, given that he is the director, that should have come as no surprise, but nevertheless, I was more and more impressed as I read about this man and his works.
And then death came to him.
‘Paprika’ is set some time in the near future. People, dealing with their stresses and disquiet, is seeking for new ways to deal with it, and a new way is indeed found: dream therapy. Through the use of a small device called the DC Mini, people can access the world of others as easily as one-two-three. A revolutionary treatment, it was nonetheless not entirely supported even by the organisations that had backed it. The lead psychotherapist on the team, Doctor Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara), starts to use the device illegally to help others. Under the guise of Paprika she then penetrates into the dreams of others. One of them is Detective Konakawa Toshimi (Akio Otsuka), a man plagued by a recurring dream that is rooted in his past. Just as the rules and regulations were about to be passed on the DC Mini, it was, of course stolen, allowing the thieves to enter anyone’s subconscious at will. Now it is up to Doctor Atsuko Chiba to find out who is the culprit before more damage is done.
If you find that there is more than a passing resemblance to Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’, then you would be forgiven for thinking that. For it was during my own online trawling after ‘Inception’ that I came across the title ‘Paprika’. It was on a message board somewhere, the location of which I fail to recall now, but I can recall the feeling of the moment: “It’s a pity that a film like ‘Paprika’ didn’t get as much recognition as ‘Inception’.” There, right there, is a sentence that felt almost like a challenge to me. I bristled metaphorically, and tracked down the title until I found it.
I have had no cause to regret it, for ‘Paprika’ is a brilliant film, one that challenges you just as much as ‘Inception’ does. What I mean here is the difference between what is real and what is a dream. With it’s multileveled dreams, we do run the risk at times of failing to keep track of what is really going on and where. It is only the supreme editing of Lee Smith that kept the whole thread together. Lest this becomes a pseudo-review of ‘Inception’, I must add that ‘Paprika’ also deals with that same issue in a much stronger way. There are moments when I literally couldn’t keep track of what is it I am seeing. Is it a dream? Is it reality? Funny I should be asking that question when I am watching a movie, the mere projection of what is in somebody else’s head unto a big screen, the playground where dreams are made, but there you go. ‘Paprika’ grew beyond being a simple movie, it became an experience to live through.
A part of that is due to its animated nature. The power of animation means that you can literally create any world you want. The characters, the rules…this world is yours to behold and shape as you please. With that power also comes great responsibility, the responsibility to tell a story that can be as fantastical as possible, but is also acceptable to its audience members. Translation: it must make sense. ‘Paprika’ is a film that can be experienced on many levels, but what that also meant is that the logic works on many different levels as well.
This review will be a shorter one than most, partly because further writing about this film will reveal a little more about the film than I truly want to. It is the revelations of the film that keeps us engaged, and even minor spoilers may, I fear, ruin the occasion. All I can say is that few film leaves me disoriented as to what I am seeing on screen. I hear that there is a live adaptation in the works, by Wolfgang Petersen, of all people. His ‘Poseidon’ ranks as arguably the only film I want my money back from. Please, God, let that not be true.
Let Satoshi Kon rest in peace.
Fikri can’t help but think of nasi goreng padprik when he thinks of the title. Hunger strikes…
Featured image credit: Sanford Sports Science Institute