Tag Archives: Anime

Paprika (2006) : The Dreams that Destroyed Tokyo

The late Satoshi Kon may be the only film director who could’ve made a satisfying film of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I’m not sure whether Kon was familiar with Pynchon. Pynchon’s sensibilities, his fascination with “low” culture and the overlapping spaces of paranoia and erotic fantasy, his love of kaleidoscopic set-pieces, would have meshed perfectly with Kon’s, and animation would’ve allowed for more of the visual lushness in his prose to come through than did in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambitious but visually dull Inherent Vice.

But Kon made Paprika and died soon after. Paprika is his greatest work and what the French would call a testament film. Adapting Yasutaka Tsutsui’s hallucinatory science fiction novel of the same name, Kon comes to the culmination of the themes that ran through his work from his first film Perfect Blue to his thirteen episode anthology anime Paranoia Agent, to which Paprika could be considered a companion piece. The imagination branches out into the world of the tangible; we’re left in the dark as to which actually takes primacy and even more in the dark as to which one should.

The film follows the intrigue surrounding a device being tested for use in psychotherapy called the DC Mini. The DC Mini attaches to the patient’s scalp and allows the therapist to view their dreams on a laptop monitor and to enter and manage them. However, the device soon reveals itself to have mysterious side effects; therapists at the lab start going mad; entering and exiting the dreams becomes more difficult. It’s discovered that one of the prototypes has been stolen by a “dream terrorist”. The chairman of the foundation, the device’s tubby inventor, and a young therapist named Chiba Atsuko who also moonlights as the alluring and mysterious “Paprika” in peoples’ dreams, all attempt to find the culprit who’s tampering with the dreams; meanwhile the dream parade starts marching into the reality.

Political action is so commonly referenced in terms of the presence or absence of sleep-there’s “unrest” among certain elements, political “awakenings”, “restlessness in the streets”, “I have a dream”, “wake up sheeple” (this one counts double due to the conscious or unconscious double entendre of the counted sheep), “the American dream”. Taking this into account, the concept of a dream terrorist seems less like a genre conceit than a literalization of something that was so close to the surface it was perhaps resting on top of it; the opposite of a subtext, a supra-text. Because of this the film doesn’t need a specific political context and accordingly doesn’t provide one.

In fact, it seems to evade a specificity of context. For a film focused on therapists and dreams there’s little to no Freud or Lacan present. As a parable about man’s relationship with technology it takes perhaps a wiser course in evading the gritty particulars but embracing the overwhelming lack of sense in dreams; at times it seems like Inception would have outright plagiarized this film but for Nolan’s boring literalism and general lack of imaginative powers. Inception laid out clear “levels” to dreams, most of which looked like cut screens from action video games; Nolan’s “dream” space makes too much rational sense to convincingly be such and mistakes “cleverness” for insight. Kon makes no such mistakes. Kon lets dreams be nonsense, the unbecome not quite becoming; there are few to no expository scenes of pseudo-scientific explanation or underlining to say “this is what I’m doing here, gee isn’t it cool.”

The DC-Mini is a cinematic device and the film is pretty clear about its being such. It doesn’t really care about creating a coherent internal logic for the machine. It’s positioned it as a poetic metaphor through which to explore the nature of the internet and the cinema. The content of the dreams that run rampant throughout Tokyo look like a bunch of discarded childrens’ toys that had been jammed into a closet.

Before the dreams escape to wreak havoc on Tokyo, when they’re contained in the patients’ mind and projected back on the monitor attached to the DC-mini, they look like the way children watch movies; the bits and pieces of genre frameworks made the fodder of fantastic self-projection feeling itself out. The fantasies have a reality to them; if we exist in a consensus reality, well, a consensus is a thing that can wander pretty far into the fantastic. “Consensus” gets top billing in that phrase for a reason.

The first of these dream sequences, the one that opens the film, is that of a police detective. It ends with a slowed down shot of a person being shot in a hallway. As a viewer trained by years of TV and movies, we expect this to be revealed as a tragic event in the man’s past; a person he wrongfully killed or maybe a partner gunned down during a stakeout. It turns out it’s in fact a scene from a film the man started shooting when he was much younger and in college; this is the stuff of his nightmares, the punctuation that gives form to his regret. The element of the autobiographical in the face of Kon’s end lends a certain poignant quality.

The Surgeon on the Mount, or Science: The Theology After God

I was born and come into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.

-Jesus Christ, New Testament, John 18:37

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

-Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882

“I consider it to be a defensible proposition that no philosopher has helped to elucidate nature; philosophy is but the refinement of hindrance.”

-Peter Atkins, Science As Truth

The good thing about science is that it’s  true whether or not you believe in it.

-Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Twitter post

Pilate therefore said to him, Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.

-New Testament, John 18:37

Something that humans made. Eva. Something that humans made. Humans are what? Something that God made. Humans are things which humans made. The things I possess are my life and mind. The vessel of a mind. Entry plug, the throne of a soul.

Who is this? This is me. Who am I? What am I? What am I? What am I? What am I?

I am myself. This object is me, the figure which forms me. This is the me that is visible, though it feels as if this is not me. A strange feeling. My body seems as if it is melting. I cannot see myself. My figure is fading away. I am aware of someone else.

-Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 14

Nietzsche pointed out the old God was dead in 1882. As is usually the case when a powerful and influential father dies, the children have since been engaged in bitter struggle over the inheritance.

It is hardly a new observation that the cultural place of science and its related philosophic sects such as positivism constitute a theology. This is nowhere more concisely laid out than in the strident claims by its strict adherents that it can’t possibly be one. “Truth” is real estate to be fought over in the war of culture, and nothing going at present has more cultural capital as “truth” than science.

“Scientism” vs. “pure science”, as its been frequently framed, is a sectarian debate. The most common arguments against it frame it as the poor application of science, an untruth, and attempts to disentangle its assertions from the “pure” science that claims to have no ideology. But the old religions emerged, as science did, from an interwoven desire to control and a necessity to meet deeply rooted psychological desires of both the individual and their collective form. The current debate is the cranky teething phase of a folklore, of a theology coming into its own.

Science cannot exist in the public imagination as much other than a mythology outside of, to some extent, the use of medications, wherein the person can at least report back the failings of their psychiatrists and then be chastised for doing so; they didn’t take the communion wafer in good faith. The rest of science can, in theory, be tested, but the proverbial guy on the street does not have the time, resources, or background to navigate the massive body of literature thrown their direction or run endless clinical tests to verify results. They must take the conclusions of science at face value or attempt to navigate a doomed layman’s investigation.

The literature of science and the pieces reified as its landmarks constitute its mythology, the guiding force of a thing that claims to have no biases. It strives to meet the questions answered by Judeo-Christian mythology; the Big Bang is a garden of Eden story deprived of a moral, keeping with Genesis Darwin brought more “begats” than could possibly ever be considered except in small chunks. It has a dual book of Revelations in climate change and the nuclear bomb. They write their end times in the vaporized absence of bodies and cities or their probable starvation instead of in John of Patmos’ dreams.

The populace largely rejects science for reasons of greed or self-preservation. The Koch Brothers, the oil companies, etc. reject global warming because they stand to make massive sums of money on it. The less well off right wingers reject science because they see its end product and driving considerations more clearly than do the scientists. The end project clearly is the control of the populace, even in its seemingly more benign manifestations such as “positive psychology.” They see themselves endlessly manipulated using the techniques of “social science”, in “soft” behaviorism or any of the more than 32 other flavors. They see this in the workplace, at school, and in their homes. These techniques are frequently tested on dogs initially for the supposed need to be “humane”. One wonders if this ritual is simply a means of deflecting oversight so that the product can reach its end users with less friction.


The interior life and dreams of a collective movement and its actions toward inscribing itself on the world are frequently expressed most clearly in its unconscious, and in this manner the dreams of the scientific project as it stands have been most clearly expressed in the seeming impenetrable chaos of TV science fiction. The pieces I’m going to use here is the Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is conspiracy theory literature in the high grand tradition of Gravity’s Rainbow. Readers of the latter might remember Pynchon’s literary montage of the 10 sephirot of the Kabbalah, the 10 seconds counted down on the film strip, and the countdown before the dropping of yet another V-2 rocket. Evangelion takes this horrifying moment of contemplation and extends it to its logical endpoint. Its been oft said that the TV cartoon is just a means to sell dolls or action figures*. Evangelion is the dominant ideologies of the present made into action figures and then beat against each other savagely until they break.

Each episode opens with a shot of the sephirot. Its plot revolves around the relationship between a secret society named SEELE hoping to bring about the merger of all men into a jelly called “LCL”, a shady government organization called NERV that produces giant robots that aren’t actually robots but the souls of the pilots’ mothers, and various world governments playing blindly into the desires of these two uneasily aligned organizations. The technological build-up of NERV and their Eva robots is, like many things in post-war Japanese moving pictures, a dramatized means of coming to terms with the atom bomb. In Evangelion the atom bomb is played by an event called “second impact”.

As the Evas get larger and more powerful the lines of their intentional Freudian symbolism shift. Initially they are the literal mother of the young pilots, the mother they must enter in order to stave off outside intruders. NERV keeps trying to replace these unreliable pilots with the pure automation of “dummy plugs“ which could pilot the Evas purely under the control of the military technology that maintains the Evas form. Even the robot form the Eva is a means of hiding their connections to humanity and a means of binding them to the will of powerful men hoping for the world`s being destroyed into something better. In the series finale, the End of Evangelion feature film, they`re destroyed and eaten alive by new Evas that are entirely automated and designed to resemble penile dentata.

The protagonist, Shinji, is a 14 year old boy who`s forced to pilot the Eva and whose father runs NERV, the organization that is the military-industrial complex collapsed into the church; a thing that isn`t either but is both simultaneously. Shinji experiences his unwilling Joseph Campbell-style hero narrative as the Freudian recasting of Oedipus myth (son kills the father to be with the mother) and Cronos myth (father tries to kill son to avoid his being replaced), as the narrative of the coming of age story so common in anime (and so frequently framed in the terms of the chosen child soldier), as the Christ myth (father sends son to die for the sins of humanity), and as the various secular myths revolving around self-actualization. Shinji experiences all of these simultaneously; no single one predominates; it is not a story trying to privilege one over the other but to let them violently clash until they too might coalesce into a unified pool of LCL.

As in so many Japanese films and TV programs, the atom bomb flows back and forth with ease between its actuality toward the metaphor of the destructive collapse of different worlds into each other.

The atom bomb is America`s scientific dream of death projected out into the world. We inoculate ourselves in the myths that it was necessary to end the war, that all of science can`t be indicted in their production and domination of the popular narrative for over half a century. Richard Feynman, in his second book of memoirs, What Do You Care What Other People Think discusses his going over to Japan to accept a physics award and purposely seeking out working class hotels to perpetuate his self-image as a man of the people. He of course did science with the moral blindness it takes as its precepts; he was integral to the Manhattan Project. If he had any moral self-awareness he`d never have the chutzpah to step foot in Japan. But he can, did, and discusses it with a sinister aww shucks false populism that was later used as the artist`s model for the manufactured populist image of George W. Bush.

Feynman saw the bomb in its infancy; in the teleological joy of discovery so prominent in the bedtime stories American science tells itself. America still sees the bomb in such immanently invisible mythical terms as to focus obsessively on its positivistic particulars.The Japanese saw the bomb in its capacity for destruction and annihilation; they saw it with an actuality that precluded any sort of coping mechanism besides the outright production of myths. These Japanese images of the bomb are American scientism`s death dreams, its Revelations photographed with lucidity from the outside. The American imagining of the bomb is the unconscious portraiture of the selfie.

Science has a mythology and exists in a context beyond “objective truth“ whether it wants to admit it or not. Its claims toward being apolitical are, again, its cowardly decision to bask comfortably in the inertia of the present.


Well yeah, of course it is. Things with little positivistic merit make claims to science or its idealized self, objectivity, the perfected vision of man based around man`s removal of himself. Man failing to live up to the precepts of science the same way he once failed to live up to the metaphysical demands of God. Science`s product pretends to be endless academic papers but the part of science that makes it to the larger population is in disgusting toxic imitations of food, military and surveillance technology, and more “efficient“ techniques of managing employees.

The “perfection“ of nutritional science presents itself commercially in the laughable portmanteau “100% Food.“

From their website:

Designed to fit today’s lifestyle of busy and health-conscious professionals concerned about wasting time.

Looking over their homepage, we see that the actual concern is speed and the impediment of actual food on being the perfect employee. Time is only “wasted“ in the eyes of the capitalist. Visually, science`s metaphysically pure “food“ resembles the vomited up form of its close ancestor, a punishment for unruly prisoners-nutraloaf.

The resources necessary for increased production and nothing more. The prisoner and the civilization on which wars are waged as its testing ground. Science under capitalism could produce little else-the resources for its application are necessarily those of massively concentrated wealth. BF Skinner`s Walden Two described his utopia; Noam Chomsky rightly pointed out that it resembled a concentration camp.

Oh what to do, what to do…

Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

*The term “Action figure” was invented because boys refused to play with “Dolls”.