Allegories of Japanese women in Paprika by Tsutsui Yasutaka and Kon Satoshi

L. Angélica Cabrera Torrecilla, Faculdad de Filosofía y Letras, National Autonomous University of Mexico [About | Email]

Volume 19, Issue 3 (Article 10 in 2019). First published in ejcjs on 24 December 2019.


The aim of this article is to analyse the symbolic representation of the Japanese women through the satirical focus of Paprika, an original novel by Tsutsui Yasutaka (1993) with a homonym anime film adaptation by Kon Satoshi (2006). Building on a postmodern science fiction genre, Paprika offers a psychological and metaphorical profile of its female protagonist, from a critical social perspective regarding hegemonic Japanese ideals. In this context, the construction of the female protagonist focuses on the psychological perspective of the manly desire, the condition of the fragility as an ideal of femininity, and the dual female identity as a result of this social exigency.

Keywords: Paprika, anime, Kon Satoshi, Tsutsui Yasutaka, woman, patriarchal representation.

1. Introduction to Paprika’s argument

Paprika is a science fiction novel written by Tsutsui Yasutaka (1993) with a homonymous anime film version by Kon Satoshi (2006). For Tsutsui, Kon’s version not only respects the original narrative arch magnificently, but his re-reading complements the original work. This article focuses on an overarching symbolic representation of male conceptions regarding Japanese women through the dualistic construction of the main character, Paprika/Atsuko, from the psychological perspective proposed by both the novel and the film. Considering the eclectic character of Paprika, this approach also takes into account satirical, postmodern, and surrealist dimensions that add to the purpose of the study.

For the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Tsutsui Yasutaka’s works are part of the postmodern genre for their absurdist and satirical contents. As he himself states, his studies in psychology, surrealism, and science fiction have motivated the creation of all his works. Moreover, Tsutsui considers that Paprika reflects the sum of his artistic career as it incorporates all his literary and academic interests (Miyata and Horiuchi 2012).

According to Paprika’s plot development, the Psychiatric Research Institute of Tokyo has created a new technology, PT, for Psycho-Therapeutic treatment, which works through the analysis of patients’ dreams. But the PT mechanism is almost immediately surpassed by its portable version, DC Mini, which can be placed imperceptibly on the head. DC Mini treatment lacks legalisation and government authorisation; however, it has begun to be used in secret for schizoid patients and for those whose case, because of their social or political status, requires discretion.

The chief of the Psychiatric Research Institute designates Chiba Atsuko as the best-qualified doctor to use such illegal treatment. Thus, Chiba creates a childish woman alter ego that only inhabits in the dream-world, Paprika. Chiba’s patients, therefore, cannot identify her, feeling more confident in their recovery process. Not all the doctors of the Institute, however, accept such treatment. Two doctors, in particular, Osanai Morio and the vice-president of the Institute, Inui Seijiro, condemn this practice; for them, DC Mini treatment lacks medical ethics.

DC Mini treatment allows the doctor to enter the patients’ unconscious through their dreams with the possibility not only to analyse them, but also to record them and thus be able to solve their psychological traumas more quickly and effectively: ‘We record the patient’s dreams to discover the anomalous form in which the sign [the signifier] and its meaning [the signified] are associated’ (Tsutsui 2011: 58. My translation). The problem arises when four of the five DC Mini prototypes are stolen, causing an uproar throughout the Research Institute. Since the device lacks security restrictions and given the ease and invisibility of its design, anyone can enter the dreams and thoughts of the user.

The issue becomes even more serious when Chiba Atsuko and her colleague, Tokita Kōsaku, become aware of the side effects of continuous use of the device: technological imperfections in the DC Mini can cause havoc in the real world. Thus, the thieves of the devices use them to invade and to insert dreams into others. Paradoxically, a technology that had been legitimately born for healing in psychological therapy, is used very soon to terrorise the psyche of others.

Eventually, the psycho-terrorism extends beyond users, where the deeper the dream-phase is, the more lucidity and less difference there will be between sleep and wakefulness. The DC Mini becomes, then, a two-way door, one that not only allows dream-world entering the wakefulness-world but also one that enables dreams to leave the mind. In this sense, dreams are able to be materialised in the real world and to interact physically with any person or thing in their path. Dreams become infected with other dreams, emerging and becoming complex, and the mental health of the entire Tokyo is quickly affected.

Being the one who inhabits in the dream-world, Paprika will lead the dream research on the DC Mini theft. Her aim is to bring back the devices and, at the same time, aid the minds that have been damaged during the process. Paprika, then, is the one who enters the minds of patients and investigates, as a detective, the origin of traumatic dreams; Atsuko, from the wakefulness, is the therapist who analyses and interprets the research carried out by Paprika.

Allegory 1, working on dream-world desires

In Japan, the adoption and introduction of modern (Western) psychology into their society emerged after industrialisation driven by Meiji Reforms in 1867. Thus, Anglo-American psychology and experimental psychology entered Japanese universities and laboratories in 1900, even before being recognised in Europe as an actual branch of sciences (Azuma and Hiroshi 1994: 708). The University of Tokyo was crucial in the development of this new discipline that had a curious adaptation: it generated a connection between religion (specifically Buddhism) and psychotherapy.

Nakamura Kokyō, Fukurai Tomokichi, Kure Shūzō, Inoue Enryō, and Kosawa Heisaku were some of the most important figures who carried out the emerging dialogue between religion and psy- disciplines. Their intention in doing so was a pragmatic one because they treated both ‘studies’ in an instrumental way and at the service of particular concerns. In this sense, their proposal becomes fundamental to understanding how psychoanalysis and Buddhism formed a single discipline in the Japanese academy.

Particularly, ‘Inoue saw Japanese Buddhism as one of his country’s most important offerings to the contemporary world’ (Harding 2014: 159). Therefore, Inoue made a connection between Buddhism and psychotherapy creating a ‘Japanese psy- discipline’ that moreover took into account three important national demands of his time:

A desire in government to consign several ‘superstitions’ to Japan’s backward past; the increasing need felt by cultural critics to find and assert a place for Japan’s heritage amid political and intellectual advocacy of all things Western; and concerns within various Buddhist sects about how to rescue their declining position in Japanese society (Harding 2014: 158).

By doing so, Inoue ‘advertised a rationalised, psychologized form of Buddhism to his compatriots as offering the keenest possible insights into “reality”’ (Harding 2014: 159).

In 1912, the psychiatrist Morooka Son introduced psychoanalysis for the first time in Japan, based on the method Freud would describe for psychological interpretation seventeen years earlier. When psychoanalysis entered the United States, it became a strictly medical treatment for neuroses. But for Freud, the spirit of psychoanalysis was not medical (in fact, most European practitioners came from disciplines as diverse as literature, natural sciences, philosophy, or laws), because what is important for psychoanalysis is the psychic material that is encoded within memory and not the recovery of some truth or precise event (Cornyetz and Keith 2010: 3, 4, 9). Since the Japanese view of psychology was so close to Buddhist precepts, its approach was dual: at the same time that they adopted the humanist stance of the Freudian version, they also implemented the medical intent of the United States proposal.

In general terms, what is important in the psychoanalytic analysis is not whether memories truly happened or not, but how they are expressed. That is why Freud calls them ‘screen memories’ (a rhetorical argument that is constantly used in Paprika), which are the result of two opposing psychic forces: the attempt to remember a significant experience and the resistance to such memory. Thus, what one remembers is closely related to repressed memory, so that both the resistance to memory and the desire to remember it are satisfied. ‘In these sorts of screen memories, fantasies are “projected” onto one another, and childhood memories are constructed “almost like works of fiction”’ (in Cornyetz and Keith 2010: 10). This description of how memories work according to the Freudian explanation becomes an important key to Paprika’s argumentative construction.

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is based on the overcoming trauma context, where sexual ideas or desires—produced normally during childhood—become unacceptable to consciousness. Freud’s method, then, analyses dreams to reconstruct the sublimated psychic reality, preventing and correcting the patient’s hysteria state (Share 2012). For Freud, dreams work in the desire-fulfillment line; therefore, depending on the prohibition degree that conscious imposes upon a desire, it can be reddressed. In order to revert the hysteria state of her patients, Atsuko’s job is to examine and to restructure the sublimated psychic reality (the mature self), while Paprika’s job is to fulfill the desire line of dreamworld (the infantile self).

The Freudian trauma theory appears constantly in Paprika dialogues. Its basic guidelines are of paramount importance to comprehend the intertextuality between fiction and psychoanalysis, as well as Paprika’s critical position to take the literalness of Freudian methods to an absurd extreme, perhaps in a clear satirical attempt against the hyper-rationalised American vision of the psychoanalytic method. For example, Freud points out that unconscious thoughts and feelings appear in dreams because they deceive consciousness. The way to achieve this arises when dreams (when formed) are nourished by apparently trivial but emotionally significant memories, called ‘day residues’ (Las Heras 2009: 2). These Freudian remnants of daily activity are the triggers that Tsutsui takes to question the fiction of the dream-world: if the information of the awake-world (the real) builds the dream-world (the unreal), this last one is, therefore, factual (Vargas 2015: 50).

It is interesting to note how Paprika uses Freudian theory from a satirical exercise and delight for the absurdity, very important genres that frame his work, as it was said. For Tsutsui, if desire is the cause of the trauma, as Freud suggests, it is the doctor’s duty, in this case, Chiba Atsuko’s duty, to cure her patients by fulfilling their desires, which, in one way or another, are linked to sexual practice. In fact, the name ‘Paprika’ is a satire of that.

Why did Chiba Atsuko decide to call the splitting of herself ‘paprika’? Is there a reason or is it merely a random name? Why ‘paprika’ and not ‘aubergine’, for example? For psychoanalysis, ways of articulating the narratives of dreams or memories are essential to understanding the encoded meanings. In this sense, the specificity of the names, for example, ‘Paprika’, becomes an important sign to ‘read’ dreams or memories, since they have a symbolic relationship with them (Cornyetz and Vincent 2010: 12).

From this perspective, an answer can be suggested to respond to why that specific name. ‘Paprika’ is the Hungarian-German name to refer to Capsicum fruits, a native Mesoamerican plant. In its origins, paprika was distinguished by its red color and its spicy flavour from capsaicin, a chemical compound known for its analgesic and aphrodisiac effects.

The qualities of this fruit were perhaps the main incentives for the Italian filmmaker Tinto Brass to call his erotic film Paprika (1991), even when it was based on a novel of the same genre but with a totally different name, Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1784), by the English novelist John Cleland. If attention is paid to the Tinto Brass film storyline, we may notice a slight influence on Paprika‘s argument regarding the construction of the female character: Mimmo is a young woman from the countryside who decides to move to the city with the intention of starting her own business. To finance herself, she works as a prostitute in brothels, places where her clients will recognise her as ‘Paprika’.

Although Tsutsui’s novel is not pornographic, nor is his Paprika a prostitute, it cannot be denied that the character has erotic connotations and very suggestive similarities of the type of work developed. Chiba Atsuko knows that, during dream therapies, her patients should not recognise her before, during, or after the treatment; either to avoid interfering with the process, due to its sui generis quality, or simply because the treatment is illegal (a very suggestive approach if it is related to prostitution). These reasons lead her to consider being another person as the better solution; a theatrical performance of herself, according to Foucault.

Paprika, therefore, will be the one who meets her patients always in the same place, Radio Club, ‘a discreet and old-fashioned bar [that] is frequented only by men. [A place that] she loves’ (Tsutsui 2011: 29. My translation). Given the depiction of this bar, are the similarities with a brothel not obvious? After the meeting, Paprika conducts the treatment at her home, one that includes dream sexual practice as a satirical hyperbole of the Freudian guidelines to solve the trauma: ‘making love in a dream stimulates feelings of guilt, causing the one who is dreaming finally to wake up’ (Tsutsui 2011: 270. My translation).

In short, the paprika-spicy analogy is very convenient not only to satirize Freudian methodologies, but more importantly, because it represents ‘natural erotism’ in Japanese girlish women like Paprika.

Allegory 2, images of fragility

Besides the psychological motives, Surrealism also had a great influence on the realisation of Paprika, as Tsutsui stated on many occasions. From this perspective, it is worth noting that one of the aspects that André Breton declared with respect to the Surrealist style was the importance of the analogy:

Only on the level of analogy have I ever experienced intellectual pleasure. For me the only manifest truth in the world is governed by spontaneous, clairvoyant, insolent connection established under certain conditions between two things whose conjunction would not be permitted by common sense. […] Poetic analogy has this in common with mystical analogy: it transgresses the rules of deduction to let the mind apprehend the interdependence of two objects of thought located on different planes. Logical thinking is incapable of establishing such a connection, which it seems a priori impossible. […] poetic analogy lets us catch a glimpse of what Rimbaud named ‘true life’ (André Breton in Caws 1999: 134-135).

To explain his ‘analogical poetry’ proposal, Breton quotes the Zen tale of dragonflies and peppers. According to this, it is said that out of Buddhist goodness, Matsuo Bashō modified a cruel haiku proposed by his disciple Kikaku, who composed: ‘Darting dragonfly/ pull off its wings, and look/ crimson pepper pod’. Bashō replied: ‘Crimson pepper pod/ add two pairs of wings, and look/ darting dragonfly’ (Forrest and Lasswell 2005: 36). In this sense, Breton considered that both analogical poetry (a very particular idea of surrealism) and haiku were able to combine two opposing principles with simplicity. A dragonfly, then, can be a crimson pepper; but also, a crimson pepper can be a dragonfly.

That Breton has seen a definite example of his surrealist proposal in Bashō’s haiku is very evocative. Zen used haiku to spread its philosophy and the connection between the two occurred in the 17th century with Matsuo Bashō, which is why R. H. Blyth suggests that haiku is religious poetry, the ‘enlightenment’ of Zen Buddhism (Blyth 1992: 5):

The poetical and the religious are identical states of mind, in which everything is seen to have its real value, that is an absolute value, […]. To the religious, all things are poetical...[t]o the poetical, all things are religious, every blade of grass, every stick and stone, the butterfly and the intestinal worms (in Tink 2015: 121).

Turning to the link between Buddhism and psychology in Japan, the Zen Buddhist priest Ōyama Jundō (who met and exchanged correspondence with the above-mentioned psychologist Kosawa), ‘thought that Freud’s therapeutic method was a means of helping people “spit out” their innermost thoughts as a kind of purification, and who was impressed by the idea that Freud’s linking of religion to neurosis might be used to distinguish true enlightenment from various self-satisfied or self-deluded spiritual states’ (Ōyama in Harding 2014: 164).

From this perspective, the haiku of Bashō’s dragonfly says something more about the difference between Atsuko and Paprika. It is not just the opposition between wakefulness/dream and reason/fantasy; more important, this difference is a wicked satirical representation of male/female inequality; but also, from West/East, and coloniser/colonised; dualities all of them focused on the context of the perception of Japanese women. To highlight that, Madame Chysanthème (1887) by the French writer Julien Viaud, better known as Pierre Loti, can be referred to as an example.

Madame Chysanthème is a semi-autobiographical novel that constitutes the paradigm of Japanese women from the Western perspective. The story tells how, through a local agency, Pierre Loti decides to contract temporary marriage with a young Japanese woman during his stay in Nagasaki. The Japanese feminine stereotype of a childlike and naïve woman is described from a single aspiration: the devotion to male well-being. In fact, once the separation of the lovers arrives, none of them express feelings of sadness or guilt.

Madame Chrysanthème became an editorial success in the West so quickly, that in 1898 John Luther Long rewrote his own version, Madame Butterfly (with a later Opera adaptation by Puccini), introducing an essential change: the young Japanese lady in love is abandoned by an American sailor. Thus, the Western image of Japanese femininity would be represented ‘as a wounded dragonfly, whose outstretched arms draw with the sleeves of the kimono the fragile silhouette of the wings of a butterfly that, in a prophetic and heartbreaking twist-plot, will be rediscovered in the first opera act [Madama Butterfly, 1904] by Puccini’ (Guarné 2014-2015: 93. My translation).

In his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Jaques Attali states that opera pieces that contain artistic discourses that are extracted from another culture, as in the case of Madama Butterfly, are integrated in such a way that their ‘exoticism’ is controlled and pre-designed for European tastes. In order to ‘domesticate’ the other, the musician, or writer in the case of Pierre Loti, must interpret and control the history, even if the culture of a people results in manipulation to channel the ideals on it. Music, like literature, reorganises the exotic other in relation to the issues of value, interest, and power that its cultural-other incites (in Liao 1990: 35).

This otherness is generally depicted as feminine, as a female body to be possessed and then abandoned. Butterfly and Chrysanthème both appear as innocent, mysterious, fragile, helpless, charming, passive, and beautiful creatures at first instance. But, above all, her representation as a butterfly or chrysanthemum reflects the transience and delusory nature of her being, femininity that becomes a fleeting reminder, perhaps ‘fictitious’, of the sudden sexual desire of men for the unknown. Thus, she embodies the male irresponsibility, the other-phobia, ‘the scapegoat that constitutes the white male’s repressed desire and guilt for which she must suffer and then die’ (Liao 1990: 39).

Certainly, the Western stereotype attributed to Japanese femininity is a dramatic one, but it should not be omitted that it was reinforced by the patriarchal structures of Japan, a stereotype enshrined in the Tokugawa/Edo regime (1600-1868) that placed women as subordinate to men according to the family-state ideological formula (Miller and Bardsley 2005: 8-9, 41).

From this perspective, in the adaptation of Kon Satoshi’s Paprika, the butterfly symbol constantly emerges throughout the film as a critical sign of that male conditioning of femininity. For example, during her investigation, a flock of butterflies attacks Paprika to make her desist, metaphorically suggesting that knowledge is not proper to the feminine.

In one of the most symbolic and significant scenes, Paprika, turned into a butterfly, is captured by Osanai (Atsuko’s main intellectual rival). In a transgressive act, Osanai ‘breaks the dream-world disguise’ (that of Paprika) revealing her true identity as Chiba Atsuko. Osanai, then, leaves Atsuko naked and unprotected in that other world (the dream-world) that she does not control. Paprika, broken, lies with her butterfly wings (a metaphor for fragility) nailed to a table, showing that the role she plays for Osanai is to be a woman-object who is only worth admiring for her beauty (1):

Figure 1. Butterfly Woman

Butterfly Woman

Returning to Madama Butterfly’s musical proposal, it becomes evident how the exotic Japanese melody breaks continuously and never accomplishes unity. In other words, ‘it is like the dismembered female body […], fragmented, disseminated, and dissolute’ (Liao 1990: 41), an idea that is reinforced by one of the dialogues that appear in Madama Butterfly. Pinkerton, the lover of Butterfly (or Cio-Cio san), says to her: ‘in other lands, if a butterfly falls into a man’s hands, she is transfixed with a pin and fastened to a board! […] There’s some truth in that. And do you know why? So that she won’t fly away. I’ve caught you. I press you to me as you tremble. You are mine’ (Madama Butterfly in Liao 1990: 46).

In Paprika, however, Kon changes that traditional ‘female condition’ when, in a surprising twist-plot, Paprika mocks her captor. In the novel, a similar scenario occurs when Atsuko is captured in an attempted rape and, despite physical aggression, she revolts against Osanai defeating him. As it can be seen, the two Zen values of opposites are played throughout Paprika: dragonfly without wings=pepper or winged pepper=dragonfly. In this sense, Paprika/Atsuko (synecdoche of Japanese female) is not refused by her lovers; on the contrary, she is the one who refuses them despite her ‘childish’ look.  

Here, the Lacanian notion of ‘symbolic order’ is broken, because despite her appearance, Paprika/Atsuko does not assume the role of a delicate woman or child since she is not reconstituted in terms of the ‘mirror image’ that others project on she (Liao 1990: 46). Therefore, this characteristic puts away Paprika/Atsuko from the femme-enfant, bringing her closer to the femme fatale: being an attractive and independent woman without a family, she represents a social threat that must be deactivated since she is everything that is outside the social norm. Paprika/Atsuko is a leader and heroine in a world considered socially masculine (that of science and technology).

From this perspective, Paprika/Atsuko is a complex postmodern heroine character as she encompasses both female and male heroism. In his book The Encyclopedia of Toys, Saitō Ryōsuke argues that Japanese male lead characters are related to scientific, mechanical, and technological issues, while also replicating the real adult world of overwork and lack of personal life. On the other hand, female lead characters are linked to dreams, magic, and otherworldliness, metaphors of their own sexuality/virginity, since they are mainly sexual subjects. That is why female superpower is a transformation of empowerment that also beautifies the character (in Allison 2009: 138, 139). Considering this, Atsuko definitely responds to this kind of male heroism, while Paprika does it with the female kind.

According to the heroic attributes indicated by Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism (1957), Paprika/Atsuko can be considered, undoubtedly, a heroine: ‘Superior in degree to other men[/person] but no to [her] natural environment, the hero[ine] is a leader. [S]he has the authority, passions, and powers of expression far greater than ours, but what [s]he does is subject both to social criticism and to the order of nature’ (1990: 4).

Conclusions: Allegory 3, consumerism of dreams

The Paprika/Atsuko opposition employs the figure of the double to thematise the confronted femininity according to manly parameters: Paprika is the ideal personification of Japanese femininity, since she, as a symbol of youth, is and does everything that Chiba Atsuko cannot be nor do since she symbolises adulthood.

In fact, Kon Satoshi made this difference between the two characters very clear in his animated version. As mentioned, Atsuko must disguise herself as another woman, a younger one, in order to awaken the male sexual desire required for the psychological therapy: ‘[Atsuko] needed time to transform her into Paprika, changes her hairstyle, her makeup and, most complicated, puts freckles under her eyes’ (Tsutsui 2011: 80. My translation). Regardless of personal transformation through a disguise, the eyes will be something that cannot be radically changed; ‘eyes are the windows to the soul’ says a popular proverb.

There is a specific technical code in anime to define the characters’ idiosyncrasies according to the shape of their eyes. Thus, while Chiba Atsuko’s eyes are horizontal and elongated as representation of adulthood and seriousness, those of Paprika, on the contrary, are large and oval as a sign of youth and vivacity:

Figure 2. Alter Ego

Alter Ego

Paprika, then, is associated with childhood, innocence, and freedom, reflecting the notion of cuteness, an idea that stresses the differences and, above all, the split between each female character. Physically, Atsuko reflects a realistic Japanese identity, while Paprika has a western appearance, an ideal. She is the ‘character brand’ of Atsuko, which responds to a trend that arose in the late 1990s whose target was initially aimed at girls but has become a national obsession of ‘cute girlish attributes.’

Regarding ‘character branding’, the Japanese advertising agency Dentsu points out: ‘[character branding] glues society at its root. A character accompanies the development of a group [and person] and becomes part of, and a symbol for, that identity. Characters are a device for self-realisation (jikojitsugen)’ (in Allison 2006: 90). But Japanese cute culture ‘reflects the changing modes of social, economic, and political conditions, especially young women’s ideas about work and marriage’ because women are the embodiment of consumption (Sato 2009: 38).

Regardless of how different the two characters may be, both are described as large ‘consumers’ (of dreams), a postmodern concern that reflects the identity construction without a moral sense. Consumerism in Japan should be understood as a postwar symptom. According to Freud, a ‘symptom is a behaviour arising out of a set of (traumatic) circumstances that it both bears witness to and is an attempt to survive’ (in Allison 2006: 46).

After the war, Japanese dreams and fantasies were stimulated by TV and movie images of American prosperity, consumer products, and popular culture. A half-century later, the Japanese landscape changed dramatically: ‘a national obsession with material things [arose]. A fantasy of abundance […] infused the country during the early years following the war […], but then it was more of an ideal (risō), patterned after a style and level of consumerism modeled by the United States’ (Allison 2006: 68).

In this sense, the delineation of Paprika/Atsuko as a voracious being suggests the male anxiety that she induces, since she represents the female consumption expressed by sexual attraction. Paprika/Atsuko, then, reflects consumers who end up being consumed by what they greedily consume. In other words, desire ends up being devoured by the desire of others. This hyper-consumerism is closely linked to Atsuko’s final destiny: hidden under a romance novel metaphor ending, there is a critique of the women role within the traditional Japanese family system (2).

After having fought together with Paprika to safeguard the dream and real worlds, and the well-being of all Tokyo, Atsuko’s great odyssey ends with her marriage to her colleague Tokita. It should be noted that Atsuko decides to marry the only man with whom she never had a sexual approach during dream-sessions (through Paprika), so they are united not by erotic lust but by hunger consumption.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, Atsuko’s desire to marry specifically with Tokita can be justified according to what Freudians call ‘oral gratification’. This is the stage of early childhood where the need for suction is satisfied; the same stage as in adulthood is usually associated with dysfunctional behaviors such as overeating or smoking (Hoffer 1961-62: 412-419). In this sense, oral gratification and hyper-consumption are two related phenomena.

When they get married, Atsuko and Tokita ‘give’ themselves to each other in an act of mutually ‘eating’ in order to suppress the individual limits, finally to join each into the other (Izquierdo, 1996: 200-201). On the one hand, Tokita is an iconic representation of extreme oral gratification, because his body ‘should weigh more than a hundred kilos’. Contrarily, ‘Atsuko’s lack of appetite means that she never gets fat nor endangers her silhouette’ (Tsutsui 2011: 7-18. My translation). Somehow, Atsuko consumed everything that Tokita did not eat, the patients’ dreams after their analysis. The woman who does not eat anything (Atsuko) becomes the woman who eats everything (Paprika).

This symbolism is best reflected in the final crucial scene of the film. After the destruction of Tokyo caused by dreams, the vice-president becomes a black hole that absorbs/eats everything that is around him; while Paprika, transformed into a little girl, begins to feed on the vice-president’s dark shadow:

Figure 3. Paprika Eats the Evil

Paprika Eats the Evil

Finally, after deciding not to be Paprika again, Atsuko ‘devours’ her; putting an end to the confident and the erotic woman. The consumption from one woman to another, according to Teresa López-Pellisa, points out to a kind of fatale virtual woman.  In this case, Paprika (as virtual woman) reflects a loving pathology that confirms the topos of unattainable woman, one who calls misfortune and is conceived for the company and pleasure of men.

‘By expelling the Real Woman [Atsuko] from the symbolic space and replacing her absence with a Double [Virtual, Paprika], the male desire can enjoy the disruption that the Virtual Woman provokes to the stability’ (López 2015: 197. My translation). This annotation becomes clearer at the end of the novel. Atsuko meets with all those who were her patient-lovers to make her marriage union public, in order to tell them that Paprika has ‘died’ and that she will not work again as a dream-consultant. Those, however, exclaim that the detective will remain alive in her dreams as a personification of manly desire and freedom.


This article was written under CONACYT and SEP fellowships during the author's doctoral degree at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.


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1.  This metaphor also appears in movies like The Collector (William Wyler, 1965) and The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991).
2.  It must bear in mind that the novel is from 1993 and the film from 2006, that means more than ten years have passed in which there have been changes (although limited) to these conceptions.

About the Author

Angélica Cabrera Torrecilla is a postdoctoral fellow at National Autonomous University of Mexico. She has a PhD in Cultural Studies and Literary Theory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She did a postdoctoral research in Japanese Studies at The College of Mexico (COLMEX) and in Global Studies at University of the Ryukyus under a Japan Foundation Fellowship.

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