June 08, 2007

A Dose of Liberating Paprika

paprika.pngPaprika is Satoshi Kon's latest film, a wonderful romp through the subconscious of a psychology research institute. The surface story about a stolen device for entering people's dreams is a great excuse to introduce any weirdness the creators want. Combined with Susumu Hirasawa's zany music the parade of dreams becomes an unstoppable delight.

Paprika is a great deal more straightforward than Paranoia Agent, but it still shares the series cheerfully creepy fluid reality (Paranoia Agent has the distinction of 1) completely surprising me with its stylistic departures and 2) doing the only slapstick episode about suicide-pacts I have ever seen - and it is funny too). There are also shades of his truly creepy Perfect Blue. The main character Dr. Chiba in Paprika seems to share some of the ontological issues with the protagonist in Perfect Blue and the tutor/prostitute in Paranoia Agent, yet she handles them with detached calm - having split personalities and never being quite certain about reality is something one can get used to. Yet Paprika is nicely balanced enough to be viewable without terrible mental effort and the characters have considerable more depth than one would expect.

Some spoilers ahead:

The villains stated motivation is a relatively straightforward conservative argument. In a world of technology and order, dreams must be allowed to be free and uncontrolled. Both for their sake and for the sake of the dreamers. This could have been developed into a debate about Sandel-type arguments about accepting the unbidden, but the villains all too soon reveal far more base motives for their actions. It makes the struggle almost childish: the non-coercive heroes versus the coercive villains. Yet this simplistic approach makes sense in the context of dreams: high philosophical ideals work in the awake world, but in the dreaming it is far more obviously about sex and power. The solution to the final fight is also equally simplistic: sometimes things don't have to be complex. Whenever somebody declares themselves invincible doom must inevitably follow in any story or dream.

Paprika develops an interesting point. The DC-mini dream interface device might be used to impose order on the dreamworld, be used to safeguard it, give someone divine power or just cause endless chaos. The film doesn't end with the protagonists denouncing it (the likely ending in most western movies); instead the whole issue of interfacing with the dreamworld is left open. The protagonists are not afraid of meddle with the dreams: rather than take the simplistic view that it must either be all good or all bad they try to do their best. It is a very different approach from the absolutist views we often hear about the ethics of interacting with nature. The moral of Paprika is that creating something is good, trying to control it will fail and/or cause evil.

As an aside, I wonder whether the main villain should be regarded as an expression of Amatsu-Mikaboshi. I'm not up enough on Japanese mythology to tell, but it seems like a fitting reference that would fit in with the anti-dominion theme.

Posted by Anders3 at June 8, 2007 02:13 AM