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Themes in the Anime film, Paprika
For the purposes of this paper, the scene of focus is from a Japanese anime film called Paprika. This film was released in 2006, from a prominent studio, Mad House, and a prominent Japanese director, Satoshi Kon, who recently died at age 47. Kon is a well-known director, quite known for his other films, including Tokyo Godfathers. Paprika takes place in a not too distant future where, in Japan, at one of the most elite psychological research labs, a great breakthrough in psychotherapy and technological innovation has been made. Kohsaku Tokita, a brilliant, childish, and obese doctor at the facility has created somewhat of a technological miracle in the DC Mini, a device, that when worn in pairs and groups, allows users to enter and interact with each other's dreams. Shortly after a few Tokita has made a few prototypes, one of the DC Minis goes missing, while a colleague in the lab also goes missing. The principle character, Paprika, is the youthful, unconscious alter ego of Dr. Atsuko Chiba, the second in command of the laboratory where the DC Mini has been created. When she is Paprika, Atsuko is the exact opposite of her conscious self, which stoic, bland, humorless, and emasculating. Paprika, Atsuko, the Chief, and Detective Konakawa, a friend of the Chief's and one of Paprika's patients, solve the mystery of the missing colleagues, missing technology, and the disruption of the borders between conscious reality and dreams, including the borders between an individual's dream and the dreams of the collective unconscious. The scene that the paper focuses upon is only one of a few scenes that is repeated with moderate to exceptional variation in the film: the nightmare of Detective Konakawa.
Konakawa and the Chief (Atskuko's and Tokita's superior at the research laboratory) were college chums that have remained in touch as mature adults. Though they are older men in positions of authority, they still retain a sense of belonging with respect to their ciricle of friends from college, as well as connection with their seishun. Konakawa specifically reaches out to the Chief because of his disturbing nightmares that have been increasing in frequency and intensity. Konakawa happens to contact the Chief again around the time of the development of the DC Mini. The Chief enlists the help of Paprika to help unravel the detective's psychological unrest. There is also reference in the dialogue of a time before the narrative took place that Paprika additionally treated the Chief for depression with the assistance of the DC Mini.
Detective Konakawa's nightmare establishes and repeats a pattern. The detective's nightmare begins with the circus. It actually begins with the appearance of a clown. Clowns can entertain people and they are also a common fear. Clowns scare people. We are already entering a zone of ambiguity, where we can be safe and entertained, as well as frightened and insecure, whether it is the circus, or our unconscious minds. The circus activity continues, as regular; the crowd consists mostly of families with young to adolescent children. We first see Konakawa as a security officer in the crowd of the circus; he warns random people that there is a dangerous man about. Suddenly, the spotlight is on him; he goes from being completely anonymous, and literally in the dark, to being the center of attention. In Japanese culture, it is more preferable, traditionally, to blend in and not stick out. There is a saying in Japanese culture that goes, "the nail that sticks out gets hammered." Meaning, those who are distinctive among a crowd of those who are similar, get brutalized in some way or other; in other words, it is better to be the same than different within the context of Japanese culture. Once Konakawa's position leaps in the polar opposite direction, from being discreet to being overt, it is clear that the circus, a figure for society and for his unconscious, is a scary place. Yet, this is only the beginning of the elements of fear in his nightmare.
The ringleader of the circus, a trusted friend in Konakawa's conscious life, performs a trick where in Konakawa magically appears from within the crowd to next to him, in a golden cage in the center of the stage. Konakawa is completely terrified at this point. Everyone can see him. He is totally visible. He is restricted and imprisoned, which is ironic, as he is a police officer whose job is to put others in prison. Konakawa puts others in prison for a living while he himself is a prisoner of his past and his unconscious. Suddenly, the crowd rushes from their seats to grab him and all of their faces are his face. In this way, though he is centerstage, he has become anonymous and indistinctive again, but in an unsettling way. Everyone in attendance at the circus is the same insofar as they all have the same face, which again, terrifies Konagawa. Suddenly he is falling, which is classic symbol of fear in dreams. He falls a few times in his nightmares.
Paprika comes to his aid for a few cycles of this nightmare, but importantly, she is not always there to save him. When he finally reaches his moments of cartharsis, they come, in part, because Konakawa's and Paprika's roles have exchanged; in dreams, she is the hero, but further along in the film, the villains or antagonists, severely incapacitate Paprika to the point where Konakawa must become the hero and save her. Konakawa's ability to face his past, face the sources of his professional and personal insecurities, are crucial in his psychological healing and ability to move forward in his life. Furthermore, Konakawa represents a stereotype of sorts in Japanese culture. Konakawa, on the outside, is macho, authoritative, and confident man. From his dreams, we learn that he is insecure, relies on a woman for assistance and strength, which is not masculine in a very misogynist culture, and is stuck in his adolescence. It is ironic and accurate that Konakawa, a big, strong man, is actually quite weak, insecure and immature; he cannot survive and even becomes dependent on the brilliant, adolescent Paprika to save his mental health. He is in love with her and she is his strength, but those facts must remain secret because the DC Mini is not yet legal, because one of the prototypes has been stolen, because she is in love with Tokita, and because it is sign of weakness to in traditional Japanese culture for a man to admit to and expose vulnerabilities in general, especially to a woman, and especially in such a way where he admits that the woman is stronger than he is.
In the third act of the film, we learn that Konakawa's nightmares and anxieties have roots in his contemporary life, but really come from events and issues during his seishun. He has not moved on, or, in some ways, not matured from that point in his life, which manifests in his inefficacy as a police officer and his inability to reconcile his dreams' contents.
After Paprika saves Konakawa from the fears of the circus, his nightmares jump cut to various genres of film, such as Tarzan, and espionage/thriller. There is repeated alignment visually and thematically to dreams and films in Paprika. Although Konakawa's dreams are nightmares, there are moments of humor, such as when Paprika hits an assailant over the head with a guitar at a party. Konakawa and Paprika laugh about it after their first therapy session together in the hotel room, as if they were remembering a moment of physical intimacy instead of psychological intimacy. The final segment of Konakawa's nightmare takes place at the scene of the latest case that he has been unable to solve. He watches the murder take place from a distance and angle where he has no chance to save the victim, reinforcing his feelings of inadequacy. Men in power who inwardly feel very inadequate is a theme in Paprika and a social reality of Japanese culture. The criminal, sometimes with no face, sometimes with the faces of others, is just out of reach, exiting away from Konakawa's grasp. As Konakawa runs after the criminal, the floor contorts and slows him down such that he cannot run smoothly in a straight line, and upon finally, with great difficulty reaching the exit, he falls again into an abyss of whiteness or oblivion. It is only when Konakawa faces his anxieties and fears that when the nightmare occurs for the final time, the floor does not move, he runs confidently in a straight line, shoots the killer (Osanai), and saves the day, such as at the end of a cop show from the 1970s or 1980s, just as his dream mimicks.
Paprika is some kind of therapeutic genius pixie. She knows, understands, and plays with the nature of the unconscious so effortlessly and effectively, that she is able to render meaning and catharsis to…[continue]
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