For many, the idea of being in a dream within a dream was something to make our collective imagination do an existential double take. Even stranger, that same idea, after being carefully consumed and picked apart by American masses, became a pop culture punchline. It was a mind-bender of a film, and we all know what Christopher Nolan creation was responsible for the resultant, national head scratching I’m talking about. However, for a film that needed to be “watched twice” in order to “get it”, the discussion surrounding Inception, like the film itself, was needlessly complex and often misinterpreted by the massive audiences who reflected upon it.
In 2006, there was an animated film that had been mostly overlooked by American masses yet received enough critical acclaim to fall just above the radar. Paprika, directed by the legendary, Japanese animation wizard, Satoshi Kon, articulated a message of dreams in adventurous ways that seemed like they were stripped directly from the creator’s REM cycle. The creators took the idea of “a dream within a dream”, which seemed nice, but thought it too small time.
Instead, Satoshi Kon and his team opted for an idea of grander make. Paprika pitches that if every dreamer on this planet were allowed, with the help of delicate technology, they would inevitably drip their dreams into the next person’s dreams, so on and so forth. Essentially, it’s a world’s dreams within a world of dreams. Without spoiling too much, the film’s ambitions go wonderfully beyond that concept into uncharted areas of animation while bending the rules of cinematic narrative to express this idea. Best part is, you don’t need to see it twice to “get it” either.
What makes Paprika excitingly relevant is how real life science has nearly mimicked its brief, nearly invisible legacy. With a hushed advent of news headlines in recent years showcasing brain scanners, dream recorders, and REM cycle studies, these scientific breakthroughs create the kind of mind-blowing parallels between imagination and reality that the movie revels in. Paprika is builds on this duality byarticulating itself in a way that presents different, varying perspectives on the ethical nature of dream manipulation via uncontrollable technology. With its fantastical approach to the wonders and dangers of dream cross-pollination, its tough not to freak in your seat when you realize these themes are likely to be questioned in our own world within a time that doesn’t seem too far off.
The experience of Paprika reveals itself by leaving viewers little time to embrace where they are, where they’ve been and what abstract moment they’re wandering into next; much like a lucid dream. You’re clueless in the moment, but have the ability to wax philosophical after you wake. This careful yet illogical unraveling of Paprika’s storyline makes the film seem like it opens a hundred doors before it gets around to explaining what’s behind each one, which is precisely what it does. The narrative reflects the animation, which reflects what many tend to think dreams feel and look like.
To note, this movie was director Satoshi Kon’s last feature length before he passed away in 2010. He had been working from his hospital bed on what seemed like a follow-up, prospectively titled Dreaming Machine, before passing away and leaving a characteristically strange but extraordinary, sentimental note to the world. The film is still slated to be released, as it is being finished by the same team that helped create Paprika.
While Kon’s film certainly deserves a spot in the minds of our subconscious for artistic innovation alone, it belongs there for a more legitimate reason. Paprika embraces the dream-ness of dreams and mirrors itself as such. There are not too many modern movies in animation that tackle the final frontier of mankind (that being our crazy minds when we sleep). Even moreso, not too many movies of this caliber pull it off so fluidly. Paprika stands as a freeform love letter to the idea of dreams itself, and for that, it’s nothing worth sleeping on.