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The Worth (And Danger) Of Our Collective Unconscious

by Kayla W | Aug 10, 2018
Movie Recommendation: Paprika

...the Internet and dreams are similar. They're areas where the repressed conscious mind escapes.  – Dr. Chiba



Satoshi Kon is the late-great master of the imaginative. Through his body of work, it is apparent that the artist just as equally possessed the ability to bring across this sense of a stark, unfeeling reality, as well as never failing to show a staggering amount of well-honed creativity. I believe that Kon deserves to be remembered in the same breath as Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman, where the abnormal is treated as passé and what’s “normal” is treated as exotic. He was an artist that held a sense of underlying humanity – one that was prone to flights of the imaginative and some truly moving instances of empathy - which was, nevertheless, sometimes tempered by a shocking ruthlessness. To me, he could, like so many creators who are lauded as being ahead of their time, peer into some strange vision of the future. This is a trait he shares with some of his personal influences, such as Philip K. Dick and Terry Gilliam. He also happened to be one of those rare and thankfully more than talented enough artists who are not afraid to acknowledge the fourth wall separating fiction from reality - his characters from their audience - but was skilled in breaking it, as shown in his late work, Opus.

On a personal note, this artist's widely differing and truly fantastic body of work is a lofty goal I aspire to one day live up to creating my own version of. Probably sounds silly, coming from someone with unfinished manuscripts to be comparing themselves to a master, but he is truly one of the great creators whom I am profoundly influenced by.

To Kon, genre was a set of tropes and tools that he used freely and without any restraint, save for the choice of what is the absolute best one to use in that moment. As an audience member, his work will have you switching effortlessly and in a sophisticated manner between, say, the heavy feels of Millennium Actress to the nail-biting tension in the short film Magnetic Rose. Kon's work is still sometimes unbelievably hard to find (where are you in print, Paranoia Agent and Perfect Blue?), but all of his movies, books, as well as his single television series, are more than exceedingly worthy of being hunted for. I don't mean to bum you out unnecessarily. A good deal of his work is still in print, and I don't foresee a future where all of his work is going to wither into obscurity.

I can comfortably say that if Kon could have chosen something to do the proverbial mic drop on, he could have done a lot worse than this film. Paprika is a thesis statement to what were his obsessions as a creator, a volatile but somehow immaculate tempering of childlike wonder with chilling, abruptly shocking coldness, as well as a flagrant disregard for a supposed line between reality and imagination. It’s magical realism with a heavy kick to the abdomen of “realism”.  

Paprika is bright, colorful, and demented one moment, then moody, slow, and emotional the next. It's intelligent, engaging, and is astoundingly "mature", in the sense that it requires the full engagement of its audience and rewards it. The film is the work of a master at the height of his ability, one with a deep and profound understanding of pacing, mood, and the knowledge of just how far to push boundaries. Kon (and I would be remiss to not also cite the legendary Madhouse animation studio who crafted it) took what I can best describe as a proto Inception story (but better) and with a lot of the moody noir reminiscent of Blade Runner, injecting it with personality and color to spare.

It’s an experience, like all of his filmography, that truly must be seen to give justice to it, but the plot could best be summarized as followed:

A team of research psychologists use a special, prototype technology which enables them to interact with patients through dreams. Following me on this?

One of these experimental psychologists, Dr. Chiba, illegally uses a "borrowed" set of the device in order to provide therapy to clients. During these deep dives into their subconscious, she takes on the persona of Paprika in her clients' dreams, transforming her into a carefree, younger woman. As Paprika, Dr. Chiba is able to identify what her clients’ deeply embedded problems are, and for a while things are great. However, although the doctor has good intentions by using the device she sneaks out in order to perform this therapy, there are terrible consequences when one device is stolen by a thief who uses the still prototypical interface to hack into people’s dreams: including the clients that Dr. Chiba had been trying to help.

The film becomes a unique mix of noir thriller, magical realism, and psychological science fiction, full of beautiful and compelling concepts that can make something as silly as a parade seem uncontrollably sinister, and presents many things which are not what they first appear – and require multiple movie viewings to truly grasp the reality of.

Although it is based off of a book, I haven’t had the chance to read it myself, so I cannot attest to its quality in comparison to the movie that it became the basis for. What I can vouch for is that this is a truly great film that is more than worth your time.  And if you ever happen to find his short movie collection, Memories, watch it immediately.

Kayla loves all things weird, wonderful, and macabre.  Her soul’s in writing, and her hobbies include gaming, watching movies and television shows, reading anything and everything. Her black cat’s TOTALLY, 100%, not evil.

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