Dreaming in Color: How Satoshi Kon Saturates the Surreal in “Paprika” (2006) [Short-form]


“A reality created from fiction.”

This is how Paprika defines a dream; or, at least, the wild and near-hallucinogenic dreamscapes that populate its unique and vibrant film-world. Satoshi Kon utilizes a singular defining element to emphasize the contrast between the characters’ waning realities and bursting fantasies: color. In a waking Tokyo, the colors are certainly, well, colorful (Paprika was crafted by Japanese animators, after all); however, upon entering the world of the dream, our eyes are bombarded by a (literal) endless parade of maniacally personified objects and animals, randomized assortments of culturally recognizable hallmarks, and mountains of seemingly benign dolls and toys accompanied by a boisterous and repetitious symphony of sorts  — all rendered in impossibly saturated, minutely hazy, undeniably eye-catching color.

Aside from the potentially obvious commentary on the bleakness of the real world, it is interesting to examine Kon’s interest in this intense sensory assault as something of a lure. Because, indeed, the dreams presented in Paprika are often enticing, but also often represent a very real danger. To the average viewer, some of these dream images might even seem nightmarish – despite the fact that the word “nightmare” is never once uttered in the film. One word that is used, however, is ‘delusion’ – particularly in the midst of the film’s bombastic climax, wherein one character claims that an amalgam of dreams have converged into one gigantic illusion – neither reality or dream.

It is this odd hybrid of manic and congested surrealism that serves as not just a basis to the story, but to the essence of cinema – that of which is woven into the film’s concept of dreams themselves. These dreams are “projected” and “viewed”. They are illuminated onto the screen of a nondescript theater, where other dreamers can stroll in and watch them unfold. The Detective’s dreams even unravel in a series of different cinematic genres, including adventure, suspense, and romance (with a sly Roman Holiday reference thrown in for good measure). He hates movies, but finds himself in countless recreations of his displeasure. His dream is the only one depicted in the film that loops and repeats to no end, much like a film left uninterrupted on a projector.

In one of the more telling scenes of the film, that aforementioned parade invades the “dream theater” and envelops Paprika and the Detective within its monstrous and colorful clutches. And while it may seem like a reach to suggest that this is how Satoshi Kon views his experience of the cinema, it would be difficult to deny that this hyperbolic representation doesn’t share some parallels with many of our trips to the movie theater. We are often bombarded with color, noise, and indiscriminate amounts of nonsense, all warped together into an untamed cavalcade of wonder (and sometimes fear).