Satoshi Kon, Anime's Dream Weaver

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Our hectic, cluttered culture is giving us bad dreams -- or so it seems in the highly acclaimed "Paprika," the new anime film from Japanese director Satoshi Kon that opened here Friday.

Kon's projects have ranged from racy ("Perfect Blue," his 1998 debut) to sentimental ("Tokyo Godfathers"). But the hallmark of this increasingly popular director isn't tone; it's visual and narrative sophistication. "Paprika" is nominally a quest for a missing device -- called the DC Mini -- that allows therapists to go inside the dreams of patients in order to treat them. The title character is the superheroine avatar of a mild-mannered doctor. When a DC Mini disappears, possibly falling into the wrong hands, she and a detective must hunt it down.

Within this framework, Kon veers through a maze of realities and styles, from sci-fi to film noir, evoking what Kon calls "a universal unconscious" as the story frequently circles back to a dream parade of inanimate objects strutting though the cityscape. The picture, based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, expresses a society worried about the high-tech future, and comforted by art.

Kon, 43, recently sat for an interview in Washington. He spoke through an interpreter.

-- Nelson Pressley

What drew you to the novel?

I was reading his works when I entered my teens, and that's when values are established within oneself. . . . In this story dreams become reality, and it was a very interesting thing.

What's the appeal of dreams?

If you look at a dream overall, it's very difficult to discern the meaning. However, as time goes on, there might be certain meanings in the background. Movies that you can watch once and understand entirely -- that is the type of movie that I don't really like. However, if you are able to understand 70 to 80 percent of what's being relayed, and there's still some percentage left that would allow for your own interpretation . . . that's the type of movie that I do like. There might be a certain part that you don't quite understand, but there is a portion that rests in your heart.

Can you give an example?

David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" is a movie where you watch it and you understand a portion of it. And even though the exact meaning of what he's trying to relay might be unclear at the moment, there is something that draws out your interest and keeps you fixated on the screen because you want to know what will happen next.

There is a strong element of paranoia in "Paprika," and a good deal of mystery about the culprit.

Many of us want to be influenced by corporations, by the government, by the media, so where there is that demand, there will be a supply. This is something that's not overly emphasized in "Paprika," but I wanted to send out a message that as far as the breakdown of common sense and ethics are concerned in our time, it is also our fault. The ones who blame need to take a good look at themselves.

The word "terrorist" is used a lot.

Some felt it was perhaps too strong a word. The terrorism I had in mind was cyber-terrorism. In the United States as well as in Japan, data from computers is being stolen very frequently. And there's a rewriting of our own minds, in a sense, because we're shown images repeatedly and told about new products, how something is superior to what had existed previously. That impressing upon the mind certain images and thereby influencing people that way -- that's the terrorism I was thinking of in "Paprika."

What drew you to this main character?

This heroine has multiple personalities, and her personalities are not integrated. But sometimes that contradiction in a character leads to a richer human being. It is not always desirable to have the different aspects of a personality blended together to create an average person.

Why do female heroines seem so prevalent in anime?

There is this strong preference, and that is perhaps first and foremost for commercial reasons. As I am a man, if I should decide to have a young man as the central figure in the movie, then I would know that young man too well. Having a different gender person as the main character, I personally want to know more about that main character. So that's how I go about creating my movies.

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