Trying to describe the cinema of Japanese animator Satoshi Kon is a mighty task indeed. Many have attempted to do so, with mixed results. Roger Corman, upon seeing Kon's feature directorial debut, Perfect Blue, said, "If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney, they'd make a picture like this." After a screening of his latest, Paprika, at a Hawaiian film festival, one reviewer called it a combination of Hello Kitty and Philip K. Dick.
Through the slightly awkward English of his translator, Sachiko Chiba Reis, Kon told the Weekly, "I think it is a very unique view of me, that pointing out. However, I feel sorry for, you know, Hitchcock and Disney!"
Though Paprika does feature a couple of visual nods to Uncle Walt, Kon says he's less influenced by animation than by live-action Hollywood films. So why not make a live-action film, especially since all his animated features take place in the real world anyway?
"To that question, I would say, the only method that I would like to, that I can, use to express myself is to draw. . . . I would like the world to see that animation. They may say, 'Why don't you do it in English?' But, no, it cannot be done." He pauses. "And since my language is drawing, I think if I'm going to make a movie live-action, I have to study from scratch, and it will take a long time to acquire all the knowledge. So, therefore, right now, I am creating animation."
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With its flights of fancy inside the dreams of the principal characters, Paprika can be a challenge to figure out upon first viewing. The second time around, it gets easier, but will viewers whose impressions of Japanese animation have been formed by Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh have the patience to work it all out? Kon worries about that. "I think this itself is a difficult animation, even for Japanese. Every time I've had a chance to speak at the introduction of the film in different places, I always speak about, 'Please watch this without preconceived notions.'" He admits that the confusion is somewhat deliberate on his part. "I think it will be ideal for me if the audience feels that dream-like experience after watching Paprika, like coming out from the dream—they wake up, and then usually, when people come out from a dream, they say, 'Why did I dream this? What does this mean?' So they will have time to spend to investigate those questions by themselves."
The vision of cinema as a wonderful collective dream is at the heart of Paprika—one of the primary characters has a pathological fear of movies, and it's destroying him inside—yet at the same time, the film's villain must be thwarted in his attempt to bring about one massive dream shared by all. To Kon, the distinction between the sides is choice—only a villain would insist on a single interpretation.
"The people who draw the line between good or bad dreams are the audience, not the director of the film," he says. "The creator of the film does give the dream to the audience, but they do not provide how to understand the good or bad of that dream. As a creator of the film, it is desirable that we see as many differences of opinion about good or bad, as many as the person who watches the movie. It is not our intention to provide one particular good or bad message to them. It's up to them to determine."
Paprika opens Friday at Edwards University, Irvine.