Before there was Inception (2010), there was Paprika (2006) (and, technically, Re-Cycle (2006)). Paprika is one of my all time favorite science fiction films. It is just so stylish, smart, and filled with incredible music. A team of Japanese researchers have developed a new therapy tool that lets the therapist enter the patient's dream. They guide the patient through exercises to unlock forgotten memories and solve long-standing psychological issues from inside the mind. When the technology is stolen and weaponized, Paprika--one of the first therapists to use the technology--is the only person who can save the dreams of the world.
Paprika is forced to enter dreams, pealing back layers of psyche to identify the culprit of the theft. She flies on a trapeze, swings through a jungle, and follows a mysterious parade of toys and household appliances heading for the big city. The therapy is high risk because if she dies in the dream she becomes brain dead in real life.
Sound familiar? Thought so.
Inception has a very similar premise. A team of espionage agents use a dream machine to enter the various levels of the psyche and extract or implant information that alters behavior in the real world. Their biggest target ever has received training against their techniques and subconsciously fights back against an attempt to take over his business from within his own mind.
Paprika and Inception really are distinct enough to be appreciated by fans of either film. The anime is all about spectacle and morality versus a straight forward espionage mission in the live action film. The similarities are clear in broad strokes but, somehow, less obvious in close-up detail.
Paprika is in control of what happens in the dream world of the patient she enters. The villain weaponizing the technology has some influence, but it does not impede Paprika's free will in any significant way. Even the patient himself cannot be controlled by the technology unless it is corrupted. They have to choose to let Paprika in so she can do her magic from the inside.
In Inception, Cobb and his team of agents are not fully in control of the dream world. They have to wait until every possible dream level is mapped out and implanted from the inside and then force their way down into the pit of the psyche. They're in constant danger of being discovered as the brain fights against any outside influence. Their intrusion is never voluntary and each person responds differently to the invasion.
Paprika is epic in its scope. It is the story of the birth of a new technology that can save the world rather than one small mission to alter the business landscape. Inception is all about the character interactions and the story implanted in one mind. Paprika freely flows through what could only be described as the public consciousness to solve a terrible crime currently underway. Inception is concerned with the theoretical future years down the line.
Who is to say whether or not Christopher Nolan was influenced by Paprika (or the identical sets and self-destructing dream environments of Re-Cycle, but we're dealing with AniMAY here, not indie Hong Kong horror) when writing Inception? It's entirely possible for artists to come up with the same ideas independently of each other. There are scenes in Inception that really do look like scenes in Paprika--the fight in the hallway would be a point on Match Game--but the elements are used for such a different purpose that it could be happenstance. What I know for sure is that Paprika and Inception pair very well together for a double screening sure to create discussion.
Thoughts on Paprika and Inception? Share them below.