It’s not outside that counts, but there’s a limit to that too.-Dr. Atsuko Chiba
If I were to sleepwalk back through the entirety of my life, I’d consider myself reality’s designated scapegoat. Going through it the first time, I found myself much more attentive to my surroundings than most of the people around me. This is because I tended to find those surroundings hostile in a way many other people didn’t. The wide open spaces designed to be filled with constant noise. Not to mention the noise itself, a frenzied pitch of gossip, hostility, and judgment. Everyone else I knew found the space to be natural, but I never could, and so that gossip, hostility, and judgment would always be directed at me. My only option for solace, or escape, was to put on a mask, one that would suppress the voices and make everyone else think I really belonged.
Paprika is the story of two woman, Dr. Atsuko Chiba and the titular Paprika. Chiba is a stoic and reserved scientist working for a company that designs scientific devices that allow people to enter the subconscious realm of dreams. Paprika is an expressive and extroverted freelance private investigator that utilizes these devices to enter the dreams of others and assist them in confronting their subconscious anxieties. The story of the film involves following the two as they are faced with a malevolent force infecting the dreams of their coworkers and eventually, society itself. It should be noted that the two women are also the same person.
I use the term “sleepwalking” to refer to my past self, because that’s the only state I can imagine for recreating my experiences at the time accurately as I am now. Though I had more attentiveness than the people around me, I was for the most part still blind to the truth of my condition. I was a flaw, an exposed crack in the fabric of the society which I inhabited, and one that said society wished to stamp out with clear prejudice. I tried to escape this fact by retreating into popular media: television, games, and film. Within those supposed retreats however, I only found my awareness expanding. The stories presented as clear ideal truths, absent of figures I could clearly identify with in any leading roles. The strange, unconventional, and outcast, the kind I was more inclined to identify with, were relegated to background as sideshows, were they not the overt villains. Not even in supposed escapism is there any escape for me.
Paprika is a film that is deeply concerned with the nature of media as it applies to our understanding of reality. Both the titular Paprika and Detective Konakawa, a client of hers, find themselves perceiving and understanding their worlds through cinematic terms. One of the most iconic scenes of the film is Konakawa discussing technical film concepts such as the “180 degree rule” and “Panfocus” with visual aids that explain them to both Paprika and the audience. Despite his clear familiarly with the medium, Konakawa is in deep denial regarding his cinephilia, even as his dreams continue to be saturated with it. This denial is eventually revealed to stem from his deep insecurities regarding his unfulfilled ambitions as a filmmaker. He can not truly break away from nor meaningfully affect the collective dream, so he retreats into the fantasy of the personal dream.
Faced with the inherent lies of escapism, I refused to simply abandon that side of myself, and instead dug deeper. Looking deep into both the media I consumed, and the way I was marked for the consumption of said media, I noticed a strong pattern within the flow of society. It is a flow that much of Kon’s work either directly or indirectly engages. Kerin Ogg, in their overview of this trend in Kon’s work, describes it succinctly: “refusing to abide by the unwritten rules the rest of us live by, this figure also causes all manner of social ills. If this sounds like a roundabout way of saying ‘the [outcast] is a scapegoat’, that is because it is.” Figures such as the outcast, like myself, are in reality an embodiment of all that society suppresses regarding itself. We are a target of not only derision, but also jealousy, for embodying openly that which the rest of society is only capable of suppressing. It’s through this discovery, the realization of why I have spent much of life so maligned, is enough for me to finally shake off the exhaustion of spending my life behind a mask.
Paprika is a film that ultimately ends with Chiba and Paprika reuniting as one. Through their reconciliation and fusion, Chiba is symbolically reborn with the power to dispel the corruption that plagues the dreams of society and reawaken as a complete person. Though I lack the same capacity to save society, I’ve also found myself irreversibly awakened by the union of the contradictions within myself. In truth, I’d rather not ever go back. If nothing else, movies wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining. I’ll continue to wander the world awake, leaving society to its collective dream.