Satoshi Kon’s ‘Paprika’ (2006) in relation to Baudrillard’s assertion that in modern culture, “the map precedes the territory”.
It is the reflection of a profound reality;
it masks and denatures a profound reality;
it masks the absence of a profound reality;
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1994).
Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation includes theorising the succession of the representation of ‘reality’ – indicating that “the radical negation of the sign as value” (Baudrillard, 1994) develops in stages. As a successive subversion of reality, this ‘process’ should be easily reversed, enabling one to ‘find’ reality again (situated in the introduction of phases). But because of the nature of the ‘precession of simulacra’, Baudrillard is arguing that there is no possible route back to reality/authenticity in modern culture – as each phase progressively detaches itself further and further from reality. Therefore when the map precedes the territory, it abolishes the link between the two. This sequential distortion of reality is undoubtedly echoed in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika (2006) – based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s (who incidentally voices ‘Kuga’ in the film) 1993 novel of the same name – although Paprika seems to demonstrate a consideration of reality as something that is still subsistent, despite seeming to follow Baudrillard’s precession of simulacra. Kon does indeed direct us to follow the succession of phases in the precession of simulacra through the representation of a sense of duality in the narrative of Paprika, but in his illustration of duality, he appears to arrive at a conclusion that differs to Baudrillard. The slow subversion of, and ultimate distrust in reality is what Kon (successfully) aims to instil in his spectatorship. Beyond simply interpolating dream into reality, Kon (like Baudrillard) achieves this through querying the existence of reality itself – but the foundations of Kon’s introduction of mistrust in reality seem not to lie in the absolute disbelief of authenticity, but in a dissatisfaction with the saturation of un-originality in modern culture. In other words, by the culmination of events in Paprika, it is clear that Kon’s desire to represent a variety of truth in modern culture is fulfilled – but the journey towards this ‘truth’ involves preventing the precession of simulacra, before the route back to reality is destroyed totally. It could be said, then, that Paprika never furthers the second ‘phase’ of the precession of simulacra – that is to say that “it masks and denatures a profound reality”, but fails to “mask the absence of a profound reality”. We move incredibly close to the ‘absence of a profound reality’, and indeed believe in this absence momentarily in Paprika, but we are ultimately able to draw the distinction between reality and the ‘dream world’, it is only at the end of the film that our suspension of disbelief is truly disrupted.
Evidently, the syntagmatic relationship between Baudrillard’s theory of simulation and Paprika is presented through the inter-related thematic motifs in both forms of representation. Kon’s presentation (conscious or otherwise) of Baudrillard’s theory of simulation is presented through the medium of animé, which is arguably what makes Paprika so visually absorbing. The use of animé empowers directors with enhanced creative license, and Kon takes full advantage of this by creating a world in which there is almost no limit to the distortion of reality. As a “popular cultural form that clearly builds on previous high cultural traditions” (Napier, 2005), animé (and indeed Paprika)could be seen as inherently conflicting in its representation of Baudrillard’s theory of Simulacra and Simulation, as it simultaneously represents contemporary issues of modern popular culture through the use of ‘memes’, and more traditional cultural subjects (such as Kabuki, Haiku and woodblock print) – two entirely juxtaposing cultural contexts. The ‘memes’ that propagate contemporary popular culture in Paprika are predominantly presented in the marching parade: the statue of liberty, traffic lights, peace signs, Gameboy etc. Although adding a sense of credibility to the central story, ‘memes’ embody the symbols that we use to epitomise reality. It could be read, then, that if tradition represents authenticity and therefore ‘reality’, and it is being represented through a popular cultural form (animé/memes) that adheres to Baudrillard’s ‘simulacrum’, then truth is found not only in the tradition that is being represented, but the representation itself (i.e. animé/simulacrum). Continuing this reading then, animé never truly progresses through the successive phases of ‘the precession of simulacra’, as it never ‘masks the absence’ of a profound reality – if the ‘reality’ is to be tradition. Instead, animé appropriates tradition/authenticity/truth into a disparate contemporary popular cultural context – ‘denaturing’ the profound reality. Because of animé texts’ “popular reach[,] they affect a wider variety of audiences in more ways than some less accessible types of high cultural exchange have been able to do” (Napier, 2005). Although Napier here is arguing a case for animé to be “taken seriously, both sociologically and aesthetically” (Napier, 2005), the statement that animé brings ‘high cultural’/traditional/authentic contexts to a contemporary audience highlights the presence of a ‘profound reality’ in the apparent ‘simulacrum’ – despite its apparent denaturation.
Composition of frame in Paprika is also intensified through the ability to create in animé, exposing it as “the ideal artistic vehicle for expressing the hopes and nightmares of our uneasy contemporary world” (Napier, 2005). This is presented through Kon’s colourful and bizarrely playful, but sub-textually unsettling visuals that explore chaos, the surreal, identity and notions of reality through the kind of “tracking shots, long-view establishing shots, fancy pans, unusual point-of-view ‘camera angles’ and extreme close-ups” (Ledoux and Ranney in Cavallaro, 1997) that are typical of Japanese animation, as opposed to “most American-produced TV animation [which] tends to thrive in action-obsessed middle-distance” (Ledoux and Ranney in Cavallaro, 1997). The versatility of Japanese animé has therefore enabled Kon to really explore perceptions of reality with almost no limitations, where there would have been in live-action cinema. For example, in the opening sequence of Paprika, we are introduced to the kind of aesthetics and surrealism that are intrinsic to the film through the transitions that Kon employs. The fluidity of the opening sequence emphasises Kon’s deconstruction of the physical boundaries of reality. We see Konakawa flipping over Paprika’s business card, which is zoomed in on, and morphs into the title that overlays the next scene. Although Paprika is in middle-distance and centred in the next frame, there is a great deal of movement around her so the shot does not seem too static. There is an extreme-close up of her face, and as she looks to her right, we are directed towards her glance – immediately placing us in the next frame. A truck pulls up along side her with an image of a young girl riding a rocket that seems to be mirroring the actions of Paprika. As the truck passes her, the girl on the rocket transforms into Paprika (the ‘actual’ Paprika drops out of the frame), and the rocket soars from the truck into the space overlooking cityscape. The quick cuts, transitions, tracking shots and ‘unusual point-of-view camera angles’ that Ledoux and Ranney describe are the devices that keep driving us through the narrative – starting in the first two minutes of the film. Kon employs these technical approaches in order to suture his spectatorship into story of Paprika.
But in order to study the way in which Baudrillard’s theory relates to Kon’s animé masterpiece, and indeed how closely the two are concurrent, it is first necessary to examine Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra and simulation itself. The idea that all of modern culture is a simulacrum presents the notion that there is in fact no true or ‘profound’ reality. Therefore according to Baudrillard, the ‘hyperreality’ that we inhabit includes no originality whatsoever. It is essential to explore the validity of this theory, as well as the representation of truth in Paprika.
Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it (Baudrillard, 1994).
Baudrillard’s reference to Alfred Korzybski’s theory that “the map is not the territory”, encapsulates the view that abstraction is created through “the sovereign difference, between one and the other” (Baudrillard, 1994). In this case, abstraction becomes the facilitator for the conception of the theory of simulation and simulacra. It could be said then, that abstraction is “the practice of focusing the attention upon one aspect of reality and then of pronouncing such an isolated aspect to be the whole truth”, and that “philosophers commit their gravest error when they are misled into the fallacy of abstraction” (Sadler, 1955). But Baudrillard’s explanation of the precession of simulacra is not simply focused upon one particular aspect of reality; it includes defining the differences of dissimulation and simulation – both intrinsic parts of modern popular culture. Dissimulation “leaves the principle of reality intact” (Baudrillard, 1994), implying a presence of something, whereas simulation “threatens the difference between the ‘true’ and the ‘false’, the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’” (Baudrillard, 1994), implying an absence of something. Therefore simulation is vastly disparate to dissimulation in that it destroys the difference between itself and the original. In this case, it could be said that a simulation of an image, is the image itself. An example of this in Paprika is brought about by the catalyst of simulation that is the ‘DC Mini’ – a device built to enhance psychotherapy practices that allows the user to infiltrate the dreams of another. The ‘DC Mini’ is therefore the ultimate facilitator of simulation, but because it is used as a method of one person infiltrating the dreams of another, it, unlike Baudrillard’s map, does not ultimately become the destroyer of difference – we are sutured into the viewpoint of the user and the dreamer. Because of this, when we share the dreams of the ‘patient’, we are able to distinguish between what is ‘real’ and what the ‘patient’ is dreaming – we have the benefit of two perspectives and can therefore locate evidence for reality. Kon therefore exhibits similarly distorted notions of reality and the imaginary as Baudrillard, but does not entirely deconstruct reality – it is still ‘there’. In the abstraction of the real and the imaginary, though, the ‘hyperreal’ is produced from a subsequent absence of the imaginary and the real – it has been created from “a radiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere” (Baudrillard, 1994). Yet Kon seems to create a ‘hyperreal’ not as a platform for the total destruction of reality, but as something more psychoanalytical in its characteristics – a method of developing characters through forcing them to confront what they have repressed. The repressed isKon’s hyperreal.
Perhaps then, an association between Baudrillard and Kon can be made through the psychoanalytical theme in both Simulacra and Simulation, and Paprika. In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard defines the ‘symptom’ as a transferred order from the organic to the unconscious. In this sense, the “discourse of the unconscious [is duplicated] in the discourse of simulation” (Baudrillard, 1994). Because of this duplication, the discourse of simulation in a psychotherapy patient seems as true as the discourse of the unconscious – as it still exists. Therefore the line between reality and imaginary has disappeared to form the compound of the ‘hyperreal’. This form of ‘psychosis’ requires a necessary confrontation between reality and the imaginary in order to distinguish between the two – seen in the climactic confrontation between Dr. Atsuko Chiba/Paprika and the Chairman at the end of Paprika. The ‘DC Mini’ in Kon’s Paprika could be seen therefore as something that is representative of Baudrillard’s abstraction – as it creates the ideathat reality and the imaginary are fused. Therefore when the ‘patients’ in Paprika – that is to say anyone who uses the ‘DC Mini’ – are subjected to their repression, they are also subjected to Baudrillard’s notion of the hyperreal. The unconscious has been revealed by the ‘DC Mini’, and co-exists with the simulation of the real (a proposed ‘reality’ in itself), and therefore ‘the map that precedes the territory’ has become not “what hides the truth – it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum [(map)] is true” (Ecclesiastes).The unconscious in Paprika therefore asserts itself as true, and we are so far sutured in the tight narrative and visuals that we believe this representation of the hyperreal to be the truth. It is only when the dream world is ‘eaten up’, that we are returned to a state of (apparent) ‘normality’. The psychoanalytical motif in Paprika therefore becomes the predominant thematic device that benefits Kon’s composition of notions of reality and imaginary. The very characteristics of the psyche denote the themes of duality, truth, fabrication, suppression, simulation and dissimulation that are seen in Baudrillard’s abstraction and Kon’s Paprika.
The ontological pluralism embodied by Atsuko and Paprika begins the reiteration of Borges’ fable regarding ‘the map preceding the territory’, but like Baudrillard, Kon seems to continue this abstraction in Paprika to the point where the fable becomes ‘unusable’. “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real…a hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary” (Baudrillard, 1994). Though the isolation of Baudrillard’s ‘hyperreal’ is not initially present in Paprika – the dream parade of (animate) inanimate objects, instrument-playing animals and numerous cultural icons that adhere to Freud’s notion of the uncanny simultaneously co-exist with Atsuko’s ‘world’ – we find it difficult to draw the distinction between the two. Atsuko’s ‘real’ city is impregnated by the imaginary world that Paprika inhabits – we see Paprika climb onto a racehorse inside a poster on the wall of one of the city’s buildings, and leaping out from inside of billboards. This notion of the hyperreal and the repressed seems to be reversed when Atsuko and Paprika quash it by ‘inhaling’ the Chairman and his nightmarish dreamscape, and there is an overall sense of optimism regarding the future of the characters. In this sense, it could be read that Kon sees the ‘DC Mini’ as the stimulus for the active acquiescence of the dream world to emancipate itself. Kon is exposing the necessity for repressed feelings/thoughts to be exorcised in order to aid the development of the ‘patient’, but also stating that from the ‘hyperreal’, a facet of truth can be unearthed. This goes against a typical Freudian view of repression that indicates the repressed as something that should not be dealt with directly, but rather understood as a means of development – it is repressed for a reason. Paprika is littered with the presence of manifest dream content, which seems to hold no apparent meaning, yet contributes to the potentially detrimental actions of the dreamer (Shima spontaneously leaps out of the hospital window). If then, this manifest dream content, this ‘hyperreal’ does hold a facet of truth, then it is quite clear that Baudrillard’s theory of the “omnipotence of simulacra” (Baudrillard, 1994) is not wholly represented in Paprika by Kon.
However, it is at the end of the film Baudrillard’s that the ‘hyperreal’ finally seems to be alluded to, and our suspension of disbelief is actually disrupted. Shima asks Konakawa the meaning of ‘all this’ whilst walking down the street. Konakawa turns to his reflection in a window and sees the figure of the friend that he was meant to make a film with when he was younger (with the likeness of Akira Kurosawa). The realisation hits him that he has in fact become the character from their original film (the detective), and lived his life according to the plot of the unfinished film. The reflection explains this to him, adding “It’s truth that came from fiction. Always remember that”. At this point in Paprika we realise that perhaps what we believed was ‘reality’, was in fact part of the imaginary. Perhaps this is where Baudrillard and Kon’s theories of authenticity and simulacrum match. Baudrillard’s belief that “one can live with the idea of distorted truth” (Baudrillard, 1994) is echoed by Kon in Paprika, as there is a representation of Baudrillard’s assertion that in modern culture ‘the map precedes the territory’. What we perceive to be real may actually be a simulacrum. The representation of reality through symbols is what becomes the substitute for reality itself, concurring with Baudrillard’s theory that asserts the “deterring [of] every real process via its operational double” (Baudrillard, 1994) is the basis of modern culture. However, although Kon’s Paprika closely follows Baudrillard’s theory of reality (or lack of), it is apparent that Kon himself seems to hold on to some kind of notion of originality. He does not simply dismiss the entirety of modern culture as something that holds no originality whatsoever – instead, he seems to be stating that even if truth does come from fiction, it is still truth. Kon’s development of Baudrillard’s assertion that in modern culture, ‘the map precedes the territory’, therefore takes a different direction at the point in the precession of simulacra where ‘it masks and denatures a profound reality’. Instead of following Baudrillard’s continuation of destroying a ‘profound reality’, Kon in Paprika is subtly demonstrating that truth is a valuable asset to modern culture by threating the spectator with the potential fruition of Baudrillard’s notion that “the territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it” (Baudrillard, 1994). This ‘threat’ is personified through everything that the Chairman in Paprika represents, but Kon (through evoking our empathy with Atsuko/Paprika) validates the idea that we need to fight for truth in a society where truth is scarce.
Baudrillard, J., 1994. ‘The Precession of Simulacra’, in Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press.
Cavallaro, D., 1997. The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Macfarland & Company, Inc., Publishers: North Carolina.
Napier, S., 2005. Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave.
Paprika, 2006. [Film] Directed by Satoshi Kon. Japan: Madhouse.
Sadler, W., 1955. The Urantia Book. Uversa Press.