Much has been written about the similarities between dream logic and film logic. Films "work" both practically and emotionally only through tricks of the mind. Whenever we go to see a film, we have to make a compact to suspend disbelief in order to enter into that film's world. Some believe that we also make this compact with reality, that what we think of as the "real world" is just a construct, a reality we have all agreed to experience together. Every once in awhile an idea or action comes along that breaks that agreement, and our reality changes.
The Japanese anime film Paprika centers on a new therapeutic device called the "DC Mini," which enables psychotherapists to enter into their patients' dreams. Dr. Atsuko Chiba works on the team that has developed the device for a powerful corporation. Her alter ego, Paprika, is particularly skilled at navigating the dreamscapes of others, she's kind of a super hero in the space, able to superimpose her own imagination onto the dreamer's, manipulating dream logic to help a patient solve problems and, eventually, to protect her own well-being. (Paprika is also a film buff, so she often references films while inside a dream.) Before all the bugs in the DC Mini can be worked out, and safeguards put into place to prevent its misuse, a prototype is stolen. In the wrong hands, the DC Mini can be used to trap people in a nightmare generated by the crazed mind of the thief.
It's all very Matrix-y -- once you know you are in a dream, you have the power to mold that dream's reality to your own purposes. In Paprika, forces inside the corporation are battling one another for control of the DC Mini, and ultimately for control of the dream world. The idea that a corporation gains control of our dreams and therefore of reality is a common science fiction conceit, but it seems particularly relevant today. Or perhaps it is only particularly relevant in my conception of current reality. Perhaps this idea has always been relevant, at least since the rise of the "information economy."
I'm not a great fan of anime, and I don't think Paprika is a signature accomplishment in that genre. I've seen pieces that were more stylized, slicker and darker, but something about the film's theme really struck a chord, in the same way that the Matrix did. Is there something about our modern, media-saturated environment that makes us especially paranoid about corporate mind control? Given the amount of media I consume on the radio, TV and online, I am always a little wary of a constructed reality. I am always seeking the rest of the story.
And I find it particularly disturbing to see the rise of films that go "boom." Don't get me wrong, I love a good disaster movie, but I often wonder if we as a society do not subtly change our reality whenever we agree to experience the nightmare of the explosion as mass entertainment. If we imagine the worst and allow ourselves to dream it together, does that collective dream make the unthinkable a little more possible? When we imagine a world of death and violence do we somehow normalize that violent world? Do we move ourselves closer to annihilation by pondering ever more imaginative and realistic disaster scenarios? Is this argument moving dangerously into the territory of right-wing screed against the moral decay and social irresponsibility of mainstream media?
In Paprika, the mad man's nightmare eventually becomes so powerful that it punches a hole in the real world. Like a cancer, it starts out as a black, malignant spot, but the nightmare quickly spreads, darkening and twisting the "real world," infecting reality with its own horrific logic. In this day and age, I often find myself thinking about the dreams of mad men and how easy it has become for them to twist a global reality to match their own demented visions. In Paprika, cartoon heroes develop super powers to fight the dark forces of the megalomaniacal corporation, what defenses do we have in "real" life?
Paprika opens June 8, 2007.