EXCL: Master “Anime-tor” Satoshi Kon


Most mainstream American audiences may only be familiar with a handful of Japanese Anime filmmakers, most likely Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame and the Oscar-winning Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), but another animator who has gained huge amounts of respect among Anime fans in this country is Satoshi Kon. His previous films Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers are widely considered to be groundbreaking examples of how animation can be used to tell stories more based in reality than the typical Anime.

His new movie Paprika, which has been playing in the film festival circuit for the last year, delves further into the world of sci-fi and fantasy than his last few films. Based on the popular sci-fi novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, it deals with dreams and a technology used to enter other people’s dreams, something originally created to aid in therapy but that’s being used to terrorize others when the device that makes it possible is stolen. The scientists who have created this technology must work with a detective who’s been haunted by his own nightmares to retrieve the device along with the help of a perky dream entity known only as Paprika.

ComingSoon.net talked with Kon about the origins and ideas behind the movie while he was in New York recently.

ComingSoon.net: This movie’s a bit of a return to fantasy and sci-fi for you after your last two movies, which were more based in reality.
Satoshi Kon: Yes, my previous works have taken place in very realistic worlds or in the real world, and I felt that exercising my imagination in a real world context had gotten a little bit restricting, and I wanted to expand the boundaries of my imagination. That was the idea in creating “Paprika” and so we brought in much more surreal and fantastic elements.

CS: This was an adaptation of a book you were already a fan of, so can you talk about what you liked about that book and why it took so long to realize it?
Kon: It’s not just “Paprika.” I’m a huge fan of all of Tsutsui’s works, and in fact, I read the novel of “Paprika” right when it was first published years ago. Right after doing my first film, “Perfect Blue,” I really wanted to do a film adaptation of “Paprika” next, but at the time, it was just as an idea that was floating around, and the production company that I was in talks with actually went out of business and it never came into fruition. Afterwards, a lot of the works I did—”Millennium Actress,” “Tokyo Godfathers” and “Paranoid Agent”—the works that I was doing were original pieces that were developed. I think some of the production houses had expected or were anticipating me to do more original works, but in the promotion for “Paranoia Agent,” there was a talk set-up by an animation magazine by myself and Mr. Tsutsui, and I got to meet him in 2003. At the time, he had seen some of my work, and he had seen “Millennium Actress” and the dream sequences of that, he very much admired. He said that if someone was able to create such a dream-like world in animation, he would like that person to adapt “Paprika” into a film. So that was a big boost to the film. As a big fan of his work, “Paprika” is really an homage to Mr. Tsutsui in image form.

CS: How involved over the course of making the movie was Mr. Tsutsui in the process? Did you show him visuals or images as you came up with the designs or did you want to wait until the end of the movie?
Kon: When we were developing the production of the film, I did put together some storyboards and sent it off to Mr. Tsutsui but he didn’t return it with feedback or requests or anything, so in that sense, as the original author of the story, he didn’t put in any special requests. In terms of our adaptation, however, within the world of the film, there is that virtual bar called Radio Club. In that, Mr. Tsutsui did the voice of the short bartender, and I did the voice of the tall bartender, so in that sense, he did participate in production.

CS: Obviously, the big dream sequences are such a big part of the movie, so how did you go about taking the words in Mr. Tsutsui’s book and creating a vision to match them?
Kon: Compared to the original novel, the film’s approach and the structure of the film is much broader and simpler than the original novel. One of the things I enjoy about Mr. Tsutsui’s writing is that in his books, worlds and genres that may not normally intermingle and mix, the boundaries between them will become very loose and transparent. In creating the film, I didn’t focus on recreating scene-by-scene, moment-by-moment, from novel to screen. In fact, what we focused on was what we felt was Mr. Tsutsui’s attitude and approach within “Paprika,” the essence of the world of “Paprika.” I think that’s what’s reflected in the final film. Mr. Tsutsui did say himself when he saw the final film that he felt that it was much more of a simplified version of the story, but in its own way, it’s a very faithful and correct adaptation of the novel.

CS: Do you yourself keep any sort of dream journal and did you incorporate any of those dreams into the movie?
Kon: During production of this film, I actually didn’t keep a dream journal. I think sometimes when people who are amateurs, who aren’t trained, get too caught up in dream analysis, it’s actually kind of a dangerous thing to get caught up in your own subconscious. I knew that Mr. Tsutsui actually used a lot of his own dreams as reference points when he was writing the original novel and he looked into that a lot. Of course, there were times when there was high amounts of stress because of the writing of the novel, and he would start to have very frightening dreams, like one dream where he woke up one day and all his hair had turned white, scary dreams like that. I had heard of that and I didn’t want to fall into the same trap myself. There are some instances, like for example, when Paprika is trying to escape while she’s flying on top of a cloud and she can’t fly away because there are too many power lines in the way for example is referencing one of my own dreams.

CS: I loved the dream parade of all the random objects marching down the street. Were all those elements things you dreamt up and assembled or did your animation team contribute to what to include in the parade?
Kon: Many of the things that appear in the parade, those items were actually decided at the storyboard stage by myself, but whatever else needed to be added to fill it out and make it a fuller parade was added by the animator who was in charge of the parade sequences. For almost all the parades, there was one staff animator who was in charge of it, so he did throw in a lot of his own unique ideas to enhance it.

CS: Part of the movie seems almost like a geek fantasy of the obese scientist winning over the beautiful woman of his dreams, something fans of anime might appreciate. Can you talk about this part of the plot? (NOTE: The next paragraph may be considered somewhat of a spoiler.)
Kon: Yes, Dr. Tokita is purposely portrayed as a pretty nerdy scientist, that was something we were aware of, and of course physically, he’s certainly not a good match for Dr. Chiba, who is very beautiful. I actually think that the unbalance there is good. It’s in the original work that this somewhat mismatched couple do end up together at the end, but I really liked that in the original work. Perhaps it’s not often seen as a couple in the real world, but if you look at it this way, Dr. Tokita has a very childlike world view, which is not quite in harmony with the enormous genius he possesses and his intellect. Dr. Chiba, she also has this unbalance in herself in that she has almost this multiple personality situation and this alter-ego Paprika, so in a way, these two people who are both somewhat unbalanced in themselves come together, compliment each other and bring more harmony into each other’s lives. That’s why it’s a great couple.

CS: What has the reaction been to the movie both here and in Japan? Do people understand the idea of the movie the first time they see it or do they need to see it multiple times to put the pieces together?
Kon: As a basic rule, there has not been a big difference in how audiences have been enjoying the film overseas and in Japan. Also as a basic rule, my intention was to make a film that seen once would not be enough, so I think that’s basically been the case overseas and in Japan. With “Paprika,” the idea is that I wanted to create a film that is more like an attraction in an amusement park. For example, what’s fun about a rollercoaster is not because you understand the angles it turns or the particular rate of acceleration or anything like that, but it’s fun and you enjoy it. I think “Paprika” has been created to have the same effect. If you think about times when you’ve had a very odd, interesting or curious dream and you wake up and are a little astounded and a little bit dazed, and it makes you think about why you had such an odd dream. If people have the same effect after watching the movie, then that would be great. If you’re the type of person who wants to know more about that dream you had and why you had it, then it would be great if you watch the movie again.

CS: Were you surprised that the film got an R-rating here even though it’s fairly innocuous?
Kon: Actually, I wasn’t surprised. I had expected that in America, it would just receive an R-rating. Of course, in Japan, it’s not limited to people over 17, that’s not the case at all in Japan, but I heard a lot about the rating system in America and how restrictive it is. On some level, I’m glad that it was just Rated R.

CS: What are you working on next?
Kon: The next project is another feature length film, it’s going to be an original work. We’ve just started the screenplay stage so it’s not going to be done for quite some time. What’s different about this film is that it won’t be geared only specifically for adults. On the surface, it should be a fun adventure film for kids, but that’s on the surface, and for adult fans of the Satoshi Kon world, there should be a lot of satisfying elements for them in this film as well.

Paprika opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center on Friday, May 25 and in Los Angeles on June 1.