Wednesday, December 5, 2007


PAPRIKA (2006) blew my mind a bit. The idea of dreams and reality running together, LATHE OF HEAVEN style, is a scary, hallucinogenic concept that always rattles me. PAPRIKA featured "the dream" as a parade of figures, a veritable gang of archetypes, accompanied by this very WEIRD tambourine-ish music that I still associate with Hare Krishnas dancing in Central Park.

Very trippy and phantasmagorical, but alas, my problems with it were all too earthy. First, the hostility towards fat people was constant, and VICIOUS. It wasn't just a "You fat pig!" insult here and there, but FAT as a SIN, condemning one to everlasting torment. In this story, FAT is presented as an indictment of a fat scientist's soul, proof that he is weak, envious, venal and an inferior human being. Also, is it my imagination (haha) or did he look (and in the English version, sound) JEWISH? I have asked two other people who have seen it, neither Jewish, who agreed. One said it was very obvious.

Other offensiveness was racist and ableist. One of the bad guys is in a motorized wheelchair, and even though dreams totally take over reality and start thoroughly messing with everyone else, he is still an angry gimp (although the fat scientist gets to morph into a giant robot). He curses his legs and awful physical body repeatedly, and finally (SPOILERS APPROACHETH!) undergoes metamorphosis into some kinda anime-superman rising above mere humans into the stratosphere, taking revenge on the world! Trite, formulaic, stereotypical, stupid.

And hey, did I tellya the disabled villain is a pasty-faced white guy when he is in the wheelchair, but morphs into a huge, muscular, dangerous, violent, able-bodied BLACK man when taking his revenge on the world? No, not kidding.

So, we have the usual list of positives for anime: creativity, fun, great ideas, highly imaginative flights-of-fancy, totally bang-up animation, positive images for women and youth, etc. And then we have these major negatives. Sigh. (And yes, the fact that it has won all these awards just upsets me more.)

I thought about lending this DVD to a friend's young daughter, and then thought the better of it. Nope, I don't think I will.


Paprika Trailer

[via FoxyTunes / Paprika]


Revista said...

I feel like more and more I'm doing this precarious balance with movies and other pop cultural texts that I enjoy wherein I have to figure out how to maneouvre with the good, the bad and the ugly.

Ugh, it's really hard to shake the academic out of my writing...

ms.cripchick said...


the angry gimp bad guy is nothing incredibly new--- you know, if we're not Tiny Tim, we're Captian Hook or the guy from It's a Wonderful Life (the list goes on and on and on).

but turning from white to black when becoming evil.....


Cassandra Says said...

Are the issues you had with the movie severe enough that you wouldn't recommend it to anyone, or just not to the impressionable kid in your example? I still haven't seen it and was going to add it to the Netflix list.

I do the filtering thing too. It's almost impossible to find pop cultural products that don't squick on some level. I mean, I love horror movies, but some of the gender stuff therein...yikes. Ditto sexism in rock music - now there's a topic you and I could probably talk about for hours.

About the fat-bashing thing...hmm. You know that my favorite band is Japanese, right? (Since I get fangirly all over my blog and use the bass player as my icon) Because of that I get to see a lot of discussion about how fatness is percieved in Japan and...this isn't something that's specific to this movie. The idea that it's cruel or rude to mock fat people doesn't seem to be taken very seriously in terms of general social mores there (witness the comic fat guy that so many game shows have), and the level at which someone is considered fat is a lot lower than it is here.

Example - That favorite band of mine? Guitarist # 2 has an eating disorder, apparently triggered by the fact that when they first started out he was what was considered to be "fat" in the music industry (ie. 5ft 10 and 150pounds). Fans sent him and the band's management letters complaining about how fat he was and demanding that he lose weight - you know, the "it's a shame he's fat, he has such a pretty face!" thing. So he did lose in he got down to about 120 pounds or less. It was horrifying to watch. Same part of the music industry, the singer of another band developed a meth habit in order to keep his weight down, again because fans were complaining about his weight (he wasn't anywhere near what would be considered fat over here). Men in that industry talk about dieting all the time, the same way women do here. The standard for "acceptably thin" is really, really low.

So...I don't know what to say about that. It bothers me, but on the other hand, not my culture, not my place to pass judgement. The fact that the "don't be fat!" stuff applies to men just as much as women is interesting, though - a friend of mine (5ft10, 140 lbs) went to visit his family last year and his grandparents starting bugging him about losing weight as soon as he got off the plane, and his cousins made fat jokes the whole time he was there. My point is that it's not just something that this particular director put in this particular movie, it seems to be a more general phenomenon.

He really is an interesting director, though. Did you see the series Paranoia Agent? Fascinating stuff with a lot of the same themes.

DaisyDeadhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DaisyDeadhead said...

Cassandra, I was only referring to young children. Any anime fan will enjoy it (but not necessarily if they're fat or disabled!)...I will have to check out that series, because I do enjoy the ideas.

Revista, actually, I'd like to read some other criticisms of this movie.

Cassandra Says said...

The disabled man who suddenly becomes able-bodied and changes race thing sounds really strange, and (unlike the fat-bashing) is something I've never seen in anime before. Did they give any explanation of why that happened? Since it was about dreams, was it supposed to be a manifestation of how the character saw himself or something?

I'd love to see some reviews, too, especially after I see it. It'd be interesting to see if a mainstream reviewer would even pick up on the racist, ableist stuff.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Cassandra, it isn't that he "changes race" so much as that he just DARKENS TO BLACK--possibly as in the metaphor of "black rage"? I doubt the film-makers even see that as "racial" and would probably be surprised as my comments. But I'm sure African-Americans who watch the movie will notice that!

Why not turn him RED for rage? Why does he turn BLACK? And not just BLACK but a tall, lean, muscular ANGRY BLACK MAN, whose physical type looks like one those basketball-player cartoon-characters from the old FAT ALBERT TV show, and I momentarily wondered if that was where the artist had drawn his inspiration! (yeesh!)

Cassandra Says said...

OK, I would find that really hard to watch. Can't say that I'm that surprised that racism that blatant shows up in anime when I actually to think about it, but yeah, racist and creepy and entirely WTF.

I'm willing to bet that the creators had no idea they were being racist. It pretty much smacks of the kind of unexamined, clueless racism that's so very, very common.

Also, I'm gonna delete my first comment, I realised I got way too off-topic and annoying.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Please don't! I think hearing about MEN with eating disorders is fascinating. It goes against all the conventional wisdom, which makes it VERY important!

Cassandra Says said...

OK, will leave it up then. I just felt like I was slipping into annoying fangirl mode and everyone would be rolling their eyes at me.

I actually get the feeling that eating disorders and body issues among men are on the rise. I've seen a lot of wierd body stuff from men I know, and even my Dad has been getting that way recently. I think something is shifting as far as how men relate to their bodies, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is.

Also, BTW, in case you were thinking about checking out more movies by Satoshi Kon, advance warning - Perfect Blue has some really wierd shit in there re. sexuality. It's definately interesting, but I could see some people finding it rather disturbing.

Also, because I felt like my first comment gave the impression that I was pointing the finger specifically at Japan in terms of insensitivity towards fat issues, it's worth pointing out that US pop culture isn't exactly great about being sensitive towards those issues either. Mr. Cassandra dragged me over to watch some TV thing the other day where they were going on about Jennifer Love Hewit having "gotten fat". She's a size 2. So, yeah, the insanity about weight is pretty much a universal issue.

DaisyDeadhead said...

She handled it beautifully, too, saying, ya know, yall are messed up, because I am not fat--and this is the problem, people!

I was so proud of her! More movie stars like that!

Bryce said...

at the end Paprika loves the fat man & says his fat means he's open to life. i know you think its "too little, too late" since we already had this conversation. & that doesn't change what comes b4, so i get your point but think its not as bad as if they didn't try to "redeem him" at all. it reverses what is earlier.

i didn't like the whole "fat ass stuck in the elevator" thing & shaming him, ect. & like u say-lots of fat people woulda turned the movie off by then.

DaisyDeadhead said...

By that scene, reality becomes so confused, that I wasn't even sure that segment was supposed to be "real" as the earlier scene where he "dreams" her saying that to him, was not real. Too clever by half.
Trying to have their cake and eat it too, I think is also the expression.

SO MUCH negativity towards fat people, if I was a fat teenager watching that movie with my friends, I would have wanted to hide somewhere! :(