Anime vs. Hollywood: Paprika & Inception

Remember that big box-office blockbuster Inception in the summer of 2010, which baffled audiences’ brains, wowed critics, got tongues wagging, won all those awards and even inspired the odd internet meme?

Of course you do, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen or heard of it.

So, wasn’t that movie, like, totally unique, like no other film out there?

Actually no. No it was not. Because what you may not know is that the ideas behind Inception were actually ‘inspired’ by the Japanese anime, Paprika, directed by Satochi Kon and released four years prior to Inception, in 2006.

Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s action/sci-fi thriller (mostly because of the contribution of Leonardo DiCaprio’s face) but I saw Paprika before watching Inception and in my mind Nolan’s Hollywood version kind of pales in comparison.

For anyone who is a fan of anime, you may be asking how Paprika qualifies as being ‘far from the silver screen’, since it was pretty big in Japan, and has achieved a cult status as one of the top anime films. It was named as one of Terry Gilliam’s 50 top animated films, and it made it into TIME magazine’s list of the top 25 animated films of all time. I mean, it also managed to ‘inspire’ Christopher Nolan, so it is certainly not unknown in the world of film. Nevertheless, it is one of my favourite anime films and therefore, I felt I had to write about it. I also recognise that a lot of people are not big anime fans, so they may have never seen or heard of Paprika.

Paprika and Inception are films based on essentially the same concept: that a technology has been created which can access people’s dreams, people can watch others’ dreams and enter them. In Paprika, the technology is in the hands of scientists but is stolen by a criminal who hacks into dreams, controlling people and causing reality-bending chaos. Inception uses similar ideas but the dream-hacking technology is used by warring bands of super intelligent bandits and strange secret organisations to hack into the dreams of the rich and powerful in order to subtly influence them. Really, the two stories go in fairly different directions from the outset.

Yet there are clear parallels to be seen and there are a lot of anime bloggers/fans out there screaming at the injustice that Inception ripped off Paprika in a big way.  This comes alongside a more general argument that Hollywood has been pinching ideas from anime for years, such as Disney’s Lion King’s uncanny resemblance to Japanese cartoon series Kimba the White Lion.

I can see where they are coming from but I’m not sure I totally subscribe to the argument that Christopher Nolan ‘stole ideas’ from Satoshi Kon. Actually, Satochi Kon took his inspiration for Paprika (the film) from Paprika (the book) written by Japanese novelist Yasutaka Tsutsui in 1993.

What I do believe is that Paprika is a vastly more powerful and memorable film than Inception. Though Inception was a good Hollywood film, it kind of blends in with all of the quite similar thrillers that Leonardo DiCaprio (despite his beautiful talents) has done.

So what does Paprika have to offer that Inception does not?

1)   An insanely cool soundtrack.

2)   It’s visually stunning. You may have thought that the Inception’s scene with the folding city was cool but I say that every dream sequence in Paprika is about 100 times more visually stimulating.

Contrasting dream worlds in Inception (top) and Paprika (bottom)

3)   Whilst Inception’s storyline attempts to make some sort of logical sense, Paprika’s does not. It has been criticized for its baffling plot but I think that this is part of the film’s intention. It is a story about the boundary between dream and reality, or the lack of it, so as the film progresses the audience get increasingly confused about what is real and what is fake. Note that it’s much harder to spot which is the dream in Paprika, whilst it’s kind of easy to pick up in Inception. Rob Nelson of The Village Voice sums up Paprika very well when he wrote that it “isn’t a movie that’s meant to be understood so much as simply experienced – or maybe dreamed.”

4)   In all, Paprika is also a much darker film; where we see innocent people brainwashed, totally and suddenly controlled by an unknown hacker. In Inception, the idea is that strangers cannot infiltrate a dream without being noticed and stopped. However, in Paprika, people have the power to totally manipulate a dreamer/victim, even when they are awake. Plus, there are creepy dolls in a large number of scenes and everyone knows creepy dolls always manage to add a real sinister vibe to any film.

5)   It’s not all doom and gloom though, Paprika is also a really magical film and the dreams have a much more child-like and ethereal quality to them than those in Inception.

I have watched Paprika several times and it still amazes and confuses me. It raises many questions that are not really answerable unless perhaps you go in for some real in-depth film-studenty analysis; even then it would only be speculation. My advice is to watch the film, take it as it comes and enjoy it!

Oh, and watch it in the original Japanese if you can handle the subtitles, I’m not usually one to preach about having to watch films in their original language, since I’ve watched several anime with English dubbing since they were the only versions available. However, in this case the American dubbing is really bad (like in Akira), so best to go for the authentic version!

Here’s a clip of the film where dreams merge into the real world, excuse the quality, it was the best YouTube had to offer…



  1. more on that whole Lion King/ Kimba the White Lion controversy can be seen in this video

  2. aliquaile · · Reply

    Paprika is a brilliant film that deserves far more recognition than it has currently received in the UK. Don’t know why I never put Inception and Paprika together but it seems incredibly obvious now you’ve pointed it out.

  3. It certainly does! Haha, yeah once you realise it does seem pretty obvious but the parallels are really not all that glaring because the two films are constructed so differently, they just happen to share the same basic idea about a technology that can access people’s dreams.

  4. RIP satoshi kon ! a unique talent that can never be replaced.I wouldn’t mind the inspiration if paprika had at least enjoyed the same (more deserved) international recognition, I mean to me it has so much more to offer than inception and it saddens me that it is far less know especially since satoshi kon died whilst he still had so much to offer. This is not the first time Hollywood “borrows” ideas from satoshi kon, it happened with black swan borrowing many elements from his movie perfect blue ( that’s worse that Inception black sawn is an outrageous rip off.) btw kon and tsutsui had agreed on the adaptation of the novel so inception directly borrows tsutsui’s ideas. when it comes to hollywood “borrowing” from japanese anime the most glaring case is Ghost in the Shell really apart from Matrix, I think many more Hollywood movies were inspired by it

    1. I think the Matrix producers was quite upfront about being inspired by Ghost in the Shell. They were different enough in terms of characters and story line to not be a blatant plagiarism, IMO. All in all, Cyberpunk is quite a small genre so a lot of things just date back to the Blade Runner-look and Neuromancer’s concept of the matrix.

      1. Engibob · ·

        Actually, I heard some of the writers of Revolutions also help wrote Ghost In The Shell.

  5. […] and manga series have even inspired a number of elements in Hollywood cinema as Brace mentions Paprika as an influence for the 2010 Christopher Nolan […]

  6. […] like Hollywood.  Of course, the reaction is much more hostile.  You can find page after page after page of sites claiming that Hollywood is taking pages out of anime’s books.  Now, and this is a […]

  7. QuestInTimeAndSpace · · Reply

    I watched Paprika high and it was thebest experience ever. It really is like a mixture between Akira and Inception (if that movie had already existed, so lets just say it’s similar to Akira in some ways). But while Akira is placed in a dystopian sci-fi military-dictature, Paprika is set in the present (+-5 years or so) and is thus more relatable. But overall, both are awesome and amongst my favorite anime movies.


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