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The Multiple Mirrors of Subconscious Desire

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Living in a modern society with a rapid development of science and technology, it is difficult to find an appropriate place for oneself. Directed by Satoshi Kon in 2006, through the back-and-forth traveling and interweaving of fantasy and reality in the use of multi-dimensional images, the animated film Paprika surrealistically reveals the split of human subconsciousness and reflects the conflict between human desire and the development of modernization in the society. The film creates a mirror world that contains dreams, paintings, screen and visual network which can be considered as different mirrors of subconsciousness. Satoshi Kon makes the dream as the core, exploring the expression of subconscious desire and the lack of self-identity of individuals in the process of modernization. The alienated self-identity of individuals is established in the mirror world, which is the sparkling but kind of disgusting nightmare, affecting the whole psychological development of individuals.

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Almost every character in the film, not only the main character Dr. Atsuko Chiba but also the minor characters such as Police Detective Toshimi Konakawa, Dr. Kosaku Tokita, and Torataro Shima, gets invaded by dreams and has his or her own alter ego in dreams. The dreams bear the strong disguised subconscious desire, leading to the endless plaguing of self-exploration. However, the ending of the film indicates that the destination is to return to the real world to complete the exploration. In Paprika, every individual attempt to identify oneself in a place where a lot of other individuals exist. The ideal state of the place should be the real world but once it cannot be achieved, the subconscious desire would try to summon an ideal ego in the mirror world and integrate the fragmented experiences in reality. Therefore, the unconscious ego would recognize the expression of desire through the mirror world, so as to complete the identity or misrecognition of the “self” in order to make up the lack of self-identity in the real world.

The place where animated films differ from live action films is that every picture and every frame has its meaning given by the director. In order to make the main character Paprika more prominent, Satoshi Kon arranged several scenes of dreams including the parade scene. The colorful and beautiful nightmare is mixed into reality, and the dream that has been broken into becomes the vortex of many dreams. People in the parade began their ravings. In general, daytime and light are occupied by human sense and reason, and the subconscious mind can only be released in the dark and night. Hence, if people in the daytime are trapped in psychological difficulties and their subconscious desires are always suppressed, even rational people may have the possibility of collapse. This is also an important reason for the comprehensive study of mental health in the film. The DC Mini machine seems to introduce us to the field of pathology in the development of new technology, but in fact, it is also the medium that leads to perceiving mirrors and dreams, trying to pursue a deeper sense with the patient so that dreams could be displayed and analyzed like movies.

Although dream is not a novel subject, it is indeed a grand and free framework which is great enough to show the director’s allusion such as the crisis of belief, the otaku culture, eroticism, mammonism, the virtual network and etc. As Timothy Perper mentions in “Psychoanalytic Cyberpunk Midsummer-Night’s Dreamtime: Kon Satoshi’s Paprika,” “Dreams are a playground of primal needs, emotions, fears, and desires” (Perper, 327). In face of the impact of the real-life dilemma, people’s subconscious desires which need to be expressed and their self-identity which in reality cannot be revealed are able to get unified in the mirror world. In order to make the mirror world more complete and persuasive, in addition to dreams, Satoshi Kon also chose the screen, the network, and other elements to complete the self-exploration. These mirrors reflect and shape the ideal image of oneself.

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In the process of looking for “self” by constantly affirming or negating the expression of unconscious desire, there is no way to escape from the mirror. As an important element in establishing oneself, the mirror needs to accommodate as many desires of self-identification as possible. Therefore, dream, as an excellent way to discover subconscious activities, becomes the core of Satoshi Kon’s choice, in which dreams are cascading down, step by step, making the subconscious desire to accumulate under the camouflage and create a fantasy world beyond daily life. People can create such a surreal fantasy world in dreams which consist of the subconscious desire as well as the motivation of fantasy.

In the film, the dream experience of Paprika is the interlacing of all dreams including the dreams of Detective Toshimi Konakawa, Dr. Kosaku Tokita, Torataro Shima, as well as the dreams expressed through Kei Himuro and Dr. Morio Osanai. Regarding Konakawa’s dream as an example to analyze: the portrait of Konakawa is gradually portrayed in the accumulated dreams. He is in a dilemma because of the realities of consciousness repression and lack of self-identity. His self-consciousness dreams are formed from distortion in dreams to gradual perfection and finally comes back to reality to be completed. Due to the death of the victim and incapability to solve the murder case, Detective Konakawa contracts phobic neurosis and falls into a psychological dilemma.

From the psychoanalytic point of view, his dream is caused by the recent evoked events and memories of the old times to design a future plan by using the present situation in the form of the past. Giving up his dream of filming at the age of seventeen became Konakawa’s unforgettable and hidden memory. In dealing with the dream sequence of Konakawa, Satoshi Kon uses the way of “Nostalgic Remediation,” as Sandra Annett demonstrates in “The Nostalgic Remediation of Cinema in Hugo and Paprika” based on Fredric Jameson’s book about nostalgia films, the dream sequence of Konakawa “includes an extra effective dimension: guilt” (Annett, 177).

The filming of police stories started Konakawa real career as a detective but the recent murder case made him feel guilty. The unintentional coincidence of the scene in the film and the real crime finally brought the serious strike to him, making him accept the double torture of betraying his dream of shooting film and incapable management of the case. Therefore, this character is led by the distorted illusion of dreams, leading to a series of self-recognition, which is actually self-misidentification. These rich latent meanings eventually condensed into an image: the murderer is close to them but difficult to reach. The seemed unrelated things including the detective film and the romanticism of Roma Holiday occupied the subconscious mind of the Konakawa and replaced his real desire clandestinely. But somehow these visual images imply the true intentions of the internal thought of him, such as the betrayal of his friend which signifies his betrayal of the dream when he was young, and his sensitivity of facing the number seventeen mirrors his fear of confronting the betrayal of his dream at age of seventeen.

In addition, the condensation and displacement of dreams make the mirror image hard to understand. When Konakawa killed himself in a dream he told himself that he didn’t want to commit suicide, and his portrait turned out to be Dr. Morio Osanai. At the moment of completing the film shooting, the man Konakawa killed was indeed Osanai. Konakawa’s soliloquy of not intending to kill himself shows the two persons’ strong motivation hidden in their consciousness because of the interweaving between dreams and dreams. The motivation refuses to recognize reality and thus disguises and distorts within the dream so that it will get misrecognized. For the existence of another “I”, Paprika is clear-headed but Konakawa and Osanai are ignorant since they are still unaware of the state of their “other self.” But after the dream has been gradually perfected, the mirror helps to build the image of the self, making this series of messy scenes finally happening in the future. Before the reality gets invaded by the dream, Konakawa saved Dr. Chiba in his dreamland as well as relieved his memory of unraveled the case. Under normal circumstances, people can distinguish between the fantasy world and the real world.

Once the fantasy world and the real world are mixed together, the mental world of humanity will begin to be disordered and further affect the real world. The therapists in Paprika are trying to find a way to be harmonious with reality and put the illusions in order. Paprika’s treatment to Konakawa through his dreamland has predicted the possibility of a dream being intruded into. Dr. Kosaku Tokita uses DC Mini and comatose Kei Himuro to communicate in dreams. This communication mixed into the dream of Konakawa, making many dreams intertwined and eventually fall into reality. The dream invasion of the serious delusions is the climax of the film, especially the discarded parade scene in which the people wander around with the sound of drums and flutes, stimulating the subconsciousness of the people in reality to leave the confinement and obtain the maximum freedom. When dreams and realities are mixed together, the unsatisfied desire in the subconscious seems to be able to come out an entity. Therefore, Paprika and Chiba could also appear at the same time, fully achieving the possibility of traveling between dream and reality in the state of awakening, and creating a gap between subconscious and consciousness.

Mirrors reflect not only the shadow in the optical sense but also the psychological self-image created by the shadow. In other words, the most important function of the mirror is to imply the subconscious self-image which is different from reality. For example, Paprika pretends to be cute when she talked to a teenager at the hamburger store but the truth was her disdainful expression towards him reflected by the mirrors behind her. Paprika is the shadow and the ideal image of Chiba, appearing in the mirror of the playground and on the glass wall. The mirror appears to be a mirror of reality but in fact, it has changed due to the invasions of dreams. Chiba and Paprika have a clear understanding of the existence of “another self,” which creates the contradiction of indifferent Chiba and passionate Paprika. It can be seen that the mirror identity in the mirror is not a simple copy of oneself but the ideal result of individual’s imagination, and in turn acts on the individual, which empowers the individual. In fact, Chiba, as the main personality, actually wants to prevent the character of Paprika to appear outside the dreamland treatment, including when dreams are mixed with reality. Chiba says Paprika is her incarnation so she should not do anything without permission, but Paprika asks her “Have you ever thought that maybe you are a part of me?” (Teodorescu, 71)

Only in the attempt to save Tokita and against the chairman, Chiba began to face up to Paprika, and thus they gradually turned to each other and joined in one. As another kind of mirror, painting can realize its symbolic meaning in the dream. In order to avoid the attack of the chairman, Paprika attached to the body of the Sphinx on the painting and told Osanai that “Oedipus seems to be more suitable for you.” The obsession of Oedipus by Osanai is reflected. The boy, son of Oedipus, has a hidden desire to replace his father to be with his mother; but in the absence of being a strong man, he chooses to identify the power of his father and yield to his patriarchal authority. He possesses both the subject of desire and a tendency to destroy himself as a way of relieving. Similar to the boy, Osanai yielded to the powerful chairman because of his own cowardice and delusions, but eventually, the complex feelings towards Chiba helped him prevent the chairman from hurting Chiba. The network as mirror appears as a kind of dreamland. Konakawa uses the network to enter the Radio Club to receive the psychotherapy of Paprika. Paprika asked him “Do you think dreams and internet are very similar? They are both areas where the repressed conscious mind vents.”

The role of dreams and the internet is a place where human subconscious minds are translated. On the internet, people use a pseudonym to find or tell what they are not likely to say in the office or at home. In fact, it is the result of deliberately releasing the subconscious on the internet. It is just like a dream. Satoshi Kon also says in one of his interviews that “by participating in chat rooms and Internet forums, people free themselves from their daily oppression” (Pais). The network as mirrors in the film also appear in the dream of Paprika and before Konakawa enters the dream, then the website of the Radio Club becomes a medium connecting reality and dream, and also a medium to enter other people’s dreams. As for the director’s intention, the mirror of the network focuses on the metaphor of reality because the network, in reality, has a subliminal release condition which is almost dreamlike. The network is not fully applicable to the rules of the real world so this particularity makes people on the internet have the freedom to surpass the reality. As a place in which the desire of the public subconscious gets released, the network can reflect the “ideal self” on the real self so that it will affect the construction of the self. Just as Alistair Swale indicates in Anime Aesthetics: Japanese Animation and the ‘Post-Cinematic’ Imagination., “the technology is there to facilitate a multiplicity of consciousness” (Swale).

The screen is the exhibition stage of dream mirror, and also the critical point of space between dreams and dreams or dreams and reality. The projection of the screen is similar to watching movies, and it is an auxiliary element of dream presentation. DC Mini can project dreamers’ dreams into the screen to analyze. The screen is also the medium that Konakawa tears his dream into the dream of Chiba. It breaks the limits of space and even time, attempting to project the ideal self in the dream. Paprika tends to use fantasy to reflect reality. The discarded parade entered the reality through dreams and are watched by all kinds of people in the real world, reflecting the subconscious desires of them and increasing the possibility that the viewer is assimilated and controlled. Similar to the subconscious desire in the network, but more direct. The parade was a refuge for people who were driven by reality. Indeed, the oppression of the development of modern society cannot be neglected.

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