I have never been a huge anime “guy,” but I was blown away by Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, a film that was somehow liquid in its continually shifting and metamorphosing imagery. It felt like he had found new and exciting ways to tell a story about dreaming, and to bring viewers into the world of his characters’ dreams.
I interviewed him over email when the film came out in 2007. I don’t usually like to interview people that way but when there is a language barrier and the subject is in Japan there isn’t usually much choice. But somehow it turned out to be one of my favourite interviews ever; I sent him something like eight questions and got back a dense, somewhat irregularly-translated eight-page document full of answers and ideas. So generous, so cool.
I’ve just learned that Satoshi Kon has died at the too-young age of 46. I’m saddened, and stunned, by the loss of a true talent, and someone whose fascinating mind I am glad to have been able to tangentially intersect with once.
Here’s an except from the document he sent me.
Me: The relationship between films and dreams is made very explicit in Paprika, down to the scene where various filmmaking techniques are explained to Paprika and the audience—or the description of Paprika as a “dream movie star.” What are your thoughts on the similarities between dreams and movies? Is filmmaking like dreaming?
Satoshi Kon: What a wonderful question! I do think filmmaking and dreaming have a lot in common. The dreams we have while we are sleeping are, in a sense, “My Unexpected Movies.” The dreamer himself is the main character, and the scenes and the scenario are unconsciously related to him. And it is actually rare for dreams to have a logical course of events, and most of the time we don’t even understand what our dreams are trying to tell us. However, because dreams are offspring of the images the dreamer has inside himself, I find the irony of the dreamer not understanding it very interesting.
On the other hand, movies generally have that logical course of events, plus the surge of excitement at the climax, and the theme that can be expressed after the conclusion. If dreams are “My Unexpected Movies,” we could refer to movies as “Dreams that everyone can sit back and enjoy.” In other words, they are “Unconscious Movies,” and “Conscious Movies,” respectively.
But then, are movies just for sitting back and enjoying? Are the stories supposed to be comprehensible?
I don’t think so.
Whether I am in the audience or in the crew, I can say with confidence that movies that are 100% comprehensible are absolutely boring.
Of course, unlike dreams, most of the things expressed in movies are expected to arouse audiences’ empathy. But without some kind of a mysterious aftertaste, I believe the movie wouldn’t leave much of an impression. Needless to say, that “mystery” wouldn’t prove effective if it confuses the story, or if it has developed from the writer’s selfish reasons. The “mystery” that I’m talking about is, in other words, “a little margin” that leaves some room for the audience’s imaginations.
And the mystery can well exist in anything – in the pictures, the characters’ feelings, the storyline, or even in the setting. But in any case, the audience would still be able to put the pictures together and undergo their “original” experience of the movie with some help from their own imagination, even without understanding where the mystery lies. Watching the very same movie and having different thus original ways of experiencing it, is indeed a big similarity between filmmaking and dreaming.