Paprika is one of my favorite films of all time. The 2006 Satoshi Kon film is well known for its stunning visuals, trippy story, and amazing music. Honestly, just trying to wrap your head around the idea of dreams within dreams (insert Inception sound bite here) and dreams invading reality is enough to keep your mind occupied. However, as with all films, especially Satoshi Kon films, there are a plethora of other themes floating around to play around with. The protagonist, Doctor Atsuko Chiba, is an especially interesting character, but one of the most interesting things about the movie is how she is viewed by the men around her. As she and Paprika maneuver through their respective worlds, they become the lens through which the audience experiences the extent of how male entitlement has flourished, even in this one small research facility.
Warning for mentions/images of assault below the cut, and spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film yet. (Although I highly recommend watching it!)
Chiba, along with her co-workers Doctors Tokita and Osanai and the department head Doctor Shima, are working on a revolutionary piece of technology that will allow psychologists (and other doctors) to enter into the dreams of their patients: the DC Mini. Doing this will, theoretically, allow for greater insight into the patient’s issues and offer new methods of treatment. However, three copies of the prototype are stolen, and the minds of those who are awake, doctors and civilians alike, begin to be infected with others’ dreams, causing them to essentially go insane. Chiba herself has an interesting stake in this problem: though she’s not the developer of the technology, she is the one who knows it the best, as she’s been using it illegally to help her patients under the dream-guise of the mysterious Paprika. As Paprika and Chiba are the same person, Chiba is for all intents and purposes the only woman in the story.
As Paprika, she is the embodiment of the manic pixie dream girl, emphasized by the fact that she is literally a “dream girl”. She’s spunky and does what she wants, and seems to attract some part of each of the men she comes into contact with. Her patient, Detective Konakawa, is almost immediately infatuated with her. Comparatively, he’s the least affected by toxic masculinity, but he does still place an expectation on Paprika simply because she’s a woman who is helping him out. Konakawa does figure out that Paprika and Chiba are the same person, but at the end of the movie he quips that he’s been “dumped”. He felt entitled to a relationship with Paprika due to her friendliness and caring nature, and still feels this disappointment despite having no contact with Chiba herself. Many people, especially women in the workforce, have to interact with customers, and sometimes this interaction is taken less as them doing their jobs and more as though they are being polite in order to flirt with the customer. Because the worker is unable to speak out, these customers insert themselves into a relationship with the worker that doesn’t exist, even getting angry when they figure out that the worker was seriously just trying to do their business. While Konakawa does at least have the maturity to realize that Chiba doesn’t owe him anything for interacting with him, he does make that leap over “doctor and patient” to “I’m going to kiss her while she’s unconscious because feelings.”
The other two doctors, Tokita and Osanai, are even clearer examples of toxic masculinity. After the DC Mini project is put to a halt, as the developer of the technology, Tokita has gotten a bit of an ego—he refuses to halt production on the DC Mini and works behind the scenes to get to the bottom of the thefts. While there’s a very real possibility of this severely hurting the entire department, no one does anything to stop Tokita because he’s a genius. He continues to do what he wants with his technology with no worries whatsoever, which leads me to believe that he has simply never been called out on it before. It’s the sort of “boys will be boys” situation that still plagues society. When Chiba comes in to chew him out for his behavior, it has little impact on him in part because he’s so used to getting his way that even asking him to consider how many people may be affected by his actions feels, to him, like “the man” trying to keep him down. As he settles in to try and take care of the issue all on his own, he states that he’s never been a rules kind of guy.
That blatant disregard for others’ well being is distinctly reminiscent of groups of men who just do what makes them feel good and like a hero in the moment, rather than “bowing down” to things like common decency. (Tokita is basically presented as a bit of a manchild as well, so the fanboy/otaku callout seems more than a little intentional.) In terms of his relationship to Chiba, Tokita, too, is the guy who stands outside saying “you look prettier when you smile”. Despite more than likely knowing that Chiba is Paprika, he makes comments about how Chiba should act more open like Paprika, and even under the influence of the invading dream he makes the same remarks, as if his opinion on how she should act is in any way warranted. It could be that he was trying to get Chiba to embrace her entire self (as she doesn’t seem to really like Paprika in the beginning), but nothing else in the movie leads the audience to believe he has that level of introspection concerning non-scientific matters.
Sitting atop the pyramid is Osanai, the more conventional “love interest” type of character, thus cementing him as Tokita’s foil as well. He’s not only smart but is also conventionally attractive, yet his masculinity is constantly being “attacked” by Chiba, who doesn’t need him, and Tokita, who has the fame and Chiba’s attention despite being overweight and childish. Upon visiting his dream, Paprika sees that he idolizes himself as a perfect specimen of manliness, and tries to break him down by exposing his imperfections and how insecure he actually is. However, Osanai’s obsession with Chiba leads him to “collect” her instead of reflecting on himself. He pins Paprika down to a table mirroring the walls of butterfly displays surrounding them and essentially assault her: violently tearing apart Paprika to pull out Chiba. He believes he is entitled to Chiba simply because he “loves” her, and casts aside one part of her to embrace the part that he finds beautiful. He revels in the things that he believes make him a man—having power, for the most part—and even comments that his seeming omnipresence in the dreamworld is what “makes [him] a man”. Yet, in the end it’s his inability to reflect on his own weaknesses that causes his downfall, and eventually gets him killed.
While it may not have necessarily been intentional on Satoshi Kon’s part to exploit the inherent issues caused by male entitlement and toxic masculinity, by giving the protagonist’s role to the only woman on the cast, it’s impossible to ignore. Being a woman in a scientific field is already hard enough with all the sexism, but Chiba’s complexity was boiled down to two simplistic facets—Paprika’s peppy attractiveness and Chiba’s cold and refined attractiveness—by most of the men around her, completely ignoring her intelligence in both the scientific part of the field and the interpersonal part of psychology and revealing a deeper struggle than dreams taking over the world. At some point, the dreams will return to who and where they belong; however, a solution for society’s ingrained male entitlement will still remain absent. To that, neither these scientists nor Detective Konakawa have an answer because they don’t recognize it for what it is. While Paprika has a happy ending, the reality of the situation gives the film a bit of a bitter note.