Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Paprika: Not just for Deviled Eggs

If you ever watched the A-Team, you might remember the episode where Murdock becomes a chef and keeps asking for paprika. Because of this, it became the funniest and best spice in my mind. Now I have a new reason to love it that blows the A-Team reference out of the water, a feat that I would not have thought possible. The new Sotoshi Kon film, Paprika, was oh so yummy. I was able to see it in the theater this weekend and it was a dream come true. Paprika takes a wonderful, surrealist look into humanity's desires and the collective unconcious, but lacked any of Breton's misogyny.

Almost all of Kon's work, like surrealism, adds the fantastical into a realistic setting. The concept of Paprika allowed him to fully realize this idea. Kon understands the freedom animation allows and creates something truly unique. I found it bizarre how the morphing images and situations of the dreams made as much sense to me as the "real world" scenes of the movie. That dichotomy was questioned, and subsequently became very unstable. This continued with the characters. They straddled the line between being both archetype and fully humans. There were a definite struggle between the characters in achieving the ideal role for their gender or place in the world.

*Spoilers Below*

In Paprika, Kon gives us another strong female protagonist, and in this case, a superhero as well. The character known as Paprika exists to help people deal with their desires and guides them to think outside of archetypal roles. In this way she comes to represent the concept of the "woman of your dreams,"and in the sense of a super hero, she seems to be perfect. However, Paprika and her real life counterpart, Dr. Chiba, struggle with a Clark Kent/Superman relationship throughout the film. Paprika is everything Chiba isn't, which includes being in full control of her life. By the end, Chiba faces this, and the chief issues of film--which also includes many archetypes, such as technology vs. nature--are resolved by the creation of a new order, where the male archetype of aggression and dominance is defeated by the female archetype of growth and peace. Or to speak in other elements, light conquered shadow by consuming it.

There is one disturbing scene that needs to be addressed. Not to spoil too much, but at one point Paprika is captured and is symbolically raped. A colleague tears off her Paprika form and reveals her true identity beneath. Personally, I'm weary of rape scenes, and feel that popular entertainment is too quick to feature it, often without giving thought to the consequences. This was far from my favorite scene in the movie, but I feel the key word is that it is symbolic. By having the act be represented by something else, it leaves the action in the realm of thought, and forces us to think about rape. I'm not saying that this is any less powerful, or less potentially offensive and dangerous. I just feel in this context that the scene was meant for us to look at rape as a tool of the male aggressive, violent, and controlling mind set. It was not glorified or glamorized, but rather focused on the thought behind the act. The character responsible for the act pins Paprika like a butterfly in a room full of pinned butterflies. This speaks of the "male" desire to control and tame, and how patriarchy places women on the same level as an inset, or an animal that is easily manipulated and controlled. He does not think of her as human but as an object that should be displayed. The archetypal male mind set is further explored when Paprika is rescued by another colleague that is in the process of dreaming about being a male action hero. To him, Paprika is a precious commodity that needs his protection. His view of her is still in the same vein as the rapist's--she is still an object, the two men just disagree on her use. His parody is complete when he take Paprika to the ending scene of his dream that is complete with him posing before the setting sun, as he, the quintessential hero, cradles her in one arm and a smoking gun in the other. He then proceeds to claim his prize by kissing her as she droops unconsciously. This was received by a "how dare you" slap on the face, and the scene ends. After this interlude, Paprika reclaims the movie. Overall, it was a scene that I would have been happier without, no one likes to see a superhero, specifically female superheros, debased in such a way. However, I also don't think the scene was there for shock value or as a form of punishment, which are some of the reasons why rape scenes are told in popular entertainment. Rather, I feel it's purpose was as a tool of discussion. The way that it was produced confirms that. It forces us to confront the mind set that causes rape, and that is one of the first steps in preventing rape.

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