And so, the inevitable: Paprika vs. Inception. Really? You didn’t see that coming?
There’s been a lot of buzz on the internet about Nolan’s Inception being inspired by Kon’s Paprika; and though while it seems that there isn’t a single link where you could find anyone actually quoting Nolan about this(1), the general assumption is that Paprika is the inspiration for Inception.
Okay. One thing must’ve come from another - whether it’s a Donald Duck comic strip or an anime, it really shouldn’t matter, right? Inspiration comes from anywhere, that’s a fact. It’s not like the idea of dreams and dreaming has never been utilized in a story before. It’s not like this is the first time that an idea sprung from one person’s mind almost simultaneously with another’s. Isn’t this the reason that literary motifs, tropes, and the idea of a collective unconscious exist?
So why are there so many Nolan fans who take this idea negatively - like Nolan’s prestige (pun intended) as a Hollywood director can be ruined by this single thought?
Yes, Paprika and Inception have striking similarities, image-wise and concept-wise. Many of them are so stark that a lot are starting to question whether his idea was “original” (like there’s such a thing), or he just ripped Inception off from this rather obscure writer and director. Allow me to list some of the similarities down, for reference:
1. On the most superficial level, Dr. Chiba’s, Paprika’s, and Ariadne’s costume designs are strikingly similar, right? Right.
2. The most popular and most obvious similarity is the hallway sequence of both films, where gravity is a question and floating in slow motion is the norm.
3. We also have the elevator scene where there is a floor for a deeply repressed traumatic memory, where a woman who has geographic knowledge (in one way or another) over the dreams insist on getting on that floor, where the man repressing the memory tries to stop her. (Paprika: Paprika and Detective Kogawa Toshimi, Inception: Cobb and Ariadne)
4. Then there’s the scene where the girl with the geographic knowledge of a dream (you know, the one who knows her way around) breaks a glass wall within the dream. (Paprika: Psychotherapist Paprika, Inception: Architect Ariadne)
5. Then there is the concept of alter-egos, where Dr. Chiba is to Paprika and Cobb is to the memory and idea of his wife, Mal.
6. We also have the idea of the different levels of consciousness manifesting literally: Besides the elevator scenes, we have the characters of Inception moving from one dream story to another, consequently moving from the most shallow to the deepest levels of consciousness. In Paprika, we have Paprika and Detective Kogawa move from one dream story to the next, as they go deeper and deeper into his subconscious.
7. What about the way the idea of the universal unconscious is translated literally through a place where all dreams are merged and are shared? The plot motivation of Paprika revolves around this idea, as we have the antagonist wanting a world where dreams are one. In Inception, we have the Limbo.
8. Of course, there’s the idea of dream terrorism. In Paprika, Dr. Tokita mentioned the idea of “inception” in an informal meeting with Dr. Chiba and Osanai.
9. And then the device that could let people share or project dreams; which, yeah, apparently the guys from Disney thought of as well. I mean, even Phineas and Ferb thought of it(2)! (Paprika: DC Mini, Inception: the dream machine - what’s it called?(3))
So is anyone trying to rip someone off? When I started writing this, I was thinking I would end it requesting for world peace and acceptance of universal ideas. I’m a giant fan of Satoshi Kon and I’m not really big on Nolan, but hey, I really don’t want to sour grape about it. The Matrix was influenced by Ghost in the Shell, images in Requiem for a Dream were influenced by Perfect Blue, but they were non-issues to the thousands of fans of these films. All films are influenced by others, as much as all stories and images are. Why should Paprika and Inception be any different?
Well… Maybe it’s because Nolan hasn’t really said anything about it yet. In all fairness to him, the idea has most likely been brewing in his dreams before he’s seen Paprika (if he has even actually seen it). And in an effort to acquaint himself with the subject, he went on researching related literature, somehow stumbled upon Paprika, had a lightbulb moment, formulated his own story in his head, and ended up with Inception. Nothing wrong with similar images and concepts, really, but the seeming direct references to Paprika in Nolan’s film beg for citation. The treatment of the concepts are quite different anyway; and if anything, the similarities may just very well be an homage to Paprika. (I should really read that French article.)
Now please excuse me while I go shoot myself in the head. Wouldn’t want the Nolan subconscious discovering my presence; we all know how ugly that can get.
(1) Or perhaps there is, but I can’t read French: Christopher Nolan, le réalisateur d’Inception avec Leonardo DiCaprio, révèle les influences, les effets magiques, les indices et les clés pour comprendre son univers méandreux. Entretien exclusif. Anyone care to translate?
(2) “Phineas: Hey, Ferb! We should build a device that projects your dreams like a movie! I’d love to see what Perry dreams about.”
- Phineas and Ferb: Phineas and Ferb Get Busted, Episode #45; Dan Povenmire 2009
(3) This is unrelated, but it’s interesting to note how the DC Mini is small, sleek, and essentially minimalist in style, while the dream machine in Inception is big and bulky. It’s cool how the machines alone and the way they are depicted is a very rich source of cultural studies.