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A boggling exploration of dreams, nightmares, and Japan’s collective unconscious, Paprika is the latest anime feature by Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers director Satoshi Kon. The 43-year-old animator visited D.C. in April to promote the movie, which opened here today. He laughed when asked if he considered the film akin to a hallucinogenic drug experience.
I didn’t think about that possibility at all. I have never done psychedelic drugs, so I wouldn’t really know. I’m not able to imagine that what I conceived in my mind would be the same as the images one might get from taking psychedelic drugs.
It’s not so much the images themselves as it is blurring of the line between reality and illusion.
That was the intent. I don’t believe movies should offer safe territory, where the audience sits and watches from a distance. I think what happens between the screen and the viewer is important. The goal is to force the audience to participate in the movie.
Your films, like so much anime, are full of transformations.
I don’t think that’s unique to Japanese animation. Animation is where something that’s immovable, and seemingly not alive, comes to life and moves. It’s the idea of animism, life forces being breathed into things. One of the strengths of animation is that it shows metamorphosis can take place.
But Japanese folklore is full of stories of shape-changers.
Yes, indeed. Japanese animation is very much influenced by those folk tales. I feel that changing the shape of a thing, or how it appears, is interesting to watch.
In the film, the surreal parade that courses through the city is full of traditional totems, like Shinto gates and Buddhist statues.
These are things that were thrown away, that are now returning. A hundred years ago in Japan, there were was much religiosity. In these modern times, it’s become rare. Go to a Shinto shrine, and you might see the gates. Go to a Buddhist temple, and you might see the statues. All of these things are now coming back. It’s as if they’ve all returned from the unconscious.
Your surname, “Kon,” is written with the character meaning “now”—-the same character that begins “konichiwa” (good day). Is that a common name in Japan?
There aren’t too many of us. It seems that our ancestors originally came from China. If you look me up on the Internet, you’ll see my name written as “now.” However, in my family register, it’s written a little differently.