Trying to describe the cinema of Japanese animator Satoshi Kon is a mighty task. Upon seeing Kon’s 1998 feature directorial debut, Perfect Blue, Roger Corman said, “If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney, they’d make a picture like this.” After a screening of Kon’s latest, Paprika, at a Hawaiian film festival, one reviewer called it a combination of Hello Kitty and Philip K. Dick.
“I think it is a very unique view of me,” Kon said through a translator during a recent Los Angeles visit. “However, I feel sorry for, you know, Hitchcock and Disney!”
Though Paprika does feature a couple of visual nods to Uncle Walt, Kon says he’s less influenced by animation than by live-action Hollywood films. It will be a while, however, before we can expect to see Kon directing one of them himself.
“To that question,” says Kon, “I would say that the only way I have to express myself is by drawing.” He pauses. “And since my language is drawing, I think if I were to make a movie in live action, I would have to study from scratch and it would take a long time to acquire all the knowledge.”
With its flights of fancy inside the dreams of its principal characters, Paprika can be a challenge to figure out upon first viewing. The second time around, it gets easier, but Kon nevertheless worries whether viewers whose impressions of Japanese animation have been formed by Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh will have the patience to work it all out.
“I think this is a difficult animation, even for the Japanese,” he says. “Every time when I’ve had a chance to speak at the introduction of the film in different places, I always say, ‘Please watch this without preconceived notions.’ ”
However, Kon admits that the confusion is somewhat deliberately induced. “I think it will be ideal for me if the audience feels a dreamlike experience after watching Paprika. When people come out from a dream, they wake up and then they say, ‘Why did I dream this? What does this mean?’ They need time to spend to investigate those questions by themselves.”
The vision of cinema as a wonderful collective dream is at the heart of Paprika — one of the primary characters has a pathological fear of movies that’s destroying him inside, yet, at the same time, the film’s villain must be thwarted in his attempt to bring about one massive dream shared by all. To Kon, the distinction between the sides is choice: Only a villain would insist on a single interpretation.
“The person who draws the line between good or bad dreams is the audience, not the director of the film,” he says. “The creator of the film does give the dream to the audience, but they do not say how to understand the good or bad of that dream. As the creator of the film, I hope to see as many differences of opinion as there are people who watch the movie.”
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