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Paprika is a cinematic dream analysis of dueling identities

By Dany Roth

Satoshi Kon is a legend in animation for a reason. Perfect Blue. Tokyo Godfathers. Millennium Actress. The films his hands touched are achingly sad, bloodcurdlingly horrifying, and explosively vibrant all at once. His final film before his untimely passing, Paprika, is no exception.

If you've never seen the film before, Paprika, is a thriller where a group of inventors must track down the stolen technology they've created, the DC Mini, before the thief uses it to control their dreams, the world's dreams, and maybe even bring about the end of days.

Paprika, if it can be boiled down in this way, is, ultimately, about two things: dreams and identity. It's also about how technology impacts both these things. Ultimately, though, the DC Mini is merely the vehicle that allows Kon to explore how our subconscious and conscious minds struggle with who we were, who we are, and who we wish to be.

Doctor Atsuko Chiba, who is, essentially, our protagonist spends the entirety of the film being split between her real world self (stern, buttoned-up, conservative) and, Paprika (vibrant, charismatic, free-spirited), who she becomes when she enters dreams. Paprika's theme of duality is at it most clear here. Atsuko's story at it's most simple is one of a woman who struggles between who she wants to be and who she feels she ought to be. Ultimately, all parts of her identity are her, and the conflict comes from her inability to embrace that reality.

Almost every character in Paprika struggles with this more or less. Tokita, who actually invented the DC Mini, struggles between adulthood and childhood, Himuro struggles with sexual and gender identity, and Detective Konakawa struggles with the career he chose and the one he ran from.

But perhaps the most interesting character of all is the "villain," Doctor Inui, the Chairman controlling the entire DC Mini operation. He believes that dreams are sacred and should never be invaded or controlled by technology. If anything, dreams are more important than reality itself. In addition to discomfort with his own sexuality, the Chairman is also wheelchair bound. For him, the dream world is a space where he no longer feels limited by his own body. For him, the dream world is where he is himself and the real world is a waking nightmare of limited identity.

On today's episode of Every Day Animation, comic, Jes Tom, joins the podcast to deconstruct all of these characters and themes. What was Satoshi Kon thinking about and dealing with himself while making Paprika? How do these themes show up in our own lives? What makes Paprika so exceptional even ten years after its initial release? We talk about all that and more.

If you're watching along with us, tomorrow is an exploration into the subgenre that is H. John Benjamin. Writer for All Female Reboot, Ariel Elias, joins the podcast to talk about one of the best Adult Swim joints you probably forgot about, Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil. It's only a eleven episodes long and each episode is also only eleven minutes a piece, so don't be afraid to binge watch this show before we talk about it tomorrow.

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