Paprika: A surreal representation of trauma and identity crisis through dreams!

Piyush Singh
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Paprika: A surreal representation of trauma and identity crisis through dreams!

What happens when the lines between reality and dreams fade? Let's take a look at how Satoshi Kon's Paprika explores this idea!

How wonderful it would be to live forever in a dream where you never get old and can do whatever you want. Seems fascinating, doesn't it? Dreams are out of our control, but they would be even more fascinating if we had more control over them. Satoshi Kon's last movie Paprika (2006) explored this idea of dreams, and I loved this movie for its symbolism, music, and unapologetic representation of one's inner horrors. One cannot explain the movie and its approach of associating dreams with our inner thoughts and fears. The visuals and story are more surreal than anything we generally see.

Let's take a look at what happens when the boundaries between reality and dreams are whisked away.

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“I, who stand before you, am the protector of your dreams. I wonder what kind of punishment will befall the ignorant commoner who tries to enter this sacred dream?”


A company comes up with a technology to supervise and share dreams which was a part of an experimental treatment project for psychiatric patients, and they called it DC mini. One of these devices had a malfunction due to which the wearer was able to invade anyone's dream. The person whose dream is invaded faces the loss of sanity temporarily. The lead character (also the head of the research team) was using the device to treat patients illegally outside the company facilities. Havoc starts after the device gets stolen, and the thief was somehow able to invade the dreams of the whole population of Tokyo city. This further blurred the lines between dreams and reality.

"You get preoccupied with what you want to do and ignore what you have to do. Don’t you understand that your irresponsibility cost lives? Of course not."

Philosophy and symbolism

If we narrow down everything that we see in the film, it basically deals with two concepts, dreams and identity, and how technology impacts both of these things. The film does a great job at portraying the sense of uncertainty that we often feel about who we were, who we are, and who we wish to be not just through its story but through its visuals as well.

Characters and their struggle with identity

Doctor Atsuko Chiba, spends the whole movie switching between her two personalities. In reality, she is seen as stern and conservative, while she becomes vibrant, charismatic, and free-spirited when she becomes Paprika by entering her dreams. She struggles to determine who she wants to be and who she feels she has to be. And this conflict between her identities was stopping her from embracing reality. Almost every character of Paprika struggles with an identity crisis. Tokita who was the inventor of DC mini, struggles between adulthood and childhood and Detective Konakawa, on the other hand, is struggling with his career choices. Throughout the movie, he's seen wandering over his past choice of not becoming a movie director.

But the most interesting character of them all was the chairman who was secretly controlling everyone's dreams. He believed that dreams and sacred and should not be invaded by technology. But on the other hand, he uses dreams as an escape from his physical disabilities. He is hungry for power which can only be achieved in the dream world and thus he does it all. And that is what we call absolute hypocritical behavior. This internal conflict of one's self is the major theme of the movie.

“This breath seethes in the joy of life. I will not allow arrogant scientific technology to intrude in this holy ground.”

Dealing with your past trauma

"Let go of the past because you can't do anything about it" is an easy thing to say to tough to apply to your life. Detective Konkawa is one such character here who is dealing with his trauma through dreams. Before he became a cop, Konakawa tried to make a movie with his best friend. He gave up on his dream when his friend got selected for a film school but he dies before he could make a cinematic masterpiece. Konkawa blames himself for killing his film dream which is why he usually dreams about films.

As the line between dreams and reality blurred, Paprika and Detective Konkawa were seen chasing a henchman in his recurring nightmare, where wherever he killed the suspect, it always turns out to be himself.

"Don't you think dreams and the Internet are similar? They are both areas where the repressed conscious mind vents."

Konkawa denied cinema in real life which is a result of his guilt. His nightmares are a product of years of repressed feelings and guilt. He frees himself when the dream version of his friend tells him:

"You didn’t do anything wrong. You just lived out our movie in real life. That’s why you became a cop. It’s the truth that came from fiction. Always remember that.”

The parade scene

Nobody can forget the parade scene in this movie. Within minutes the scene was able to symbolize Japan's most common issues like high suicide rates, delusional people, slaves of technology, parents treating their children as money-making machines, and political corruption, among others. This also symbolizes how our inner consciousness takes over and makes noise when we run from the truth instead of confronting it. Throughout the movie, it's shown that only the characters who are aware that they're in a dream are able to come out of it while other people aren't able to leave the dream as it is too good for them to be there.

What is the significance of dreams here?

Dreams often don't seem sensible but we need to understand that they come from our hopes and fears and repressions. Ignoring dreams is like ignoring that subconscious part that is desperate to be heard.

Satoshi Kon never missed impressing us with his work!

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