the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Dreaming of Paprika and Gustave Moreau: Anime and the Arts

Posted by gninja on July 7, 2007

Thanks to a very, very kind anonymous cyber-person, my husband and I were able to watch Paprika in the comfort of home last night– we saw it a couple of weeks ago in the theater and were very much enamored of it.  It’s a film I doubt I’m even qualified to categorize, bu, in short, it deals with the encroachments of dreams upon reality and reality upon dreams.  It’s a weird film.  A highly weird film.  The animation is gorgeous.  Superlatively gorgeous.


In the movie, I spotted at least two allusions to the art of Gustave Moreau, a mid-to-late 19th century Symbolist.  One of which is below:

Oedipus and the Sphynx, 1864


This is not the first time I’ve caught masterpieces and (fairly) well-known paintings tucked away in anime.  I believe there are a ton in Sky Blue.  I’m not entirely sure why certain artworks are selected for display–although I can guess, with the dreamlike, proto-surrealist images by Moreau–but if there’s been a systematic study done of it, I’d like to know.  Anime (and manga) strike me as media in which emulation or allusion are significant components, a way of staking out for the sake of the audience the major influences on the work they’re viewing, as well as claiming a particular artistic heritage /lineage.  For all I know, for every Western masterpiece shown in a given film, there could be numerous allusions to Japanese artists and artworks that my Occidentalist education has deprived me of noticing.

2 Responses to “Dreaming of Paprika and Gustave Moreau: Anime and the Arts”

  1. zooeygoethe said

    There are a tonne in Sky Blue – but then it’s set in a dystopian future, where such treasures are kept in a very Guggenheim-y looking museum. The cool part is that they are specific works, rather than books-by-the-metre ‘classic’ art put there to fill the walls.

    Another aspect specific to Paprika is that it uses art as a device for the Paprika character to transform, travel and escape – so in the example above, she needs wings. Elsewhere, a mermaid, a horse to ride, etc. It also uses a lot of advertising. So from that perspective it could have been sheer luck (¨go find a painting with a mermaid to put on this wall for Paprika to jump into¨).

    Live action films could always use copies (Children of Men, for example, although that to was in the specific context of Collected Art), but tends not to (from what I’ve seen – maybe I just don’t pay attention).

    I reckon if I had to draw my world, including the backgrounds, rather than film it, I’d do the same. Artists get to put their own signatures in animation – anime in particular – in a way that live-action Directors-of-Photograpy probably cannot. And in anime, where the art itself is half the point of watching, that contribution is going to be noticed and appreciated – unlike if, say, some Transformer saves a few Dalis while rampaging through a museum…

  2. gninja said

    My point is, mostly, (aside from pointing out a cool aspect of the film) that there are specific reasons as to why certain works are chosen. If you look up “wings” among works of art, you’ll find many many examples. So, it wasn’t chance that they picked Moreau (and they used two of his works in Paprika). I mention his belonging to a school of artists known as Symbolists, and I do think the makers of Paprika went in specifically for a Symbolist. It’s also interesting that such good use of a Western work was made in this film, whereas I’d be hard-pressed to find American/Euro films making intelligent allusions to Japanese art. Maybe they do– but would American/Euro audiences recognize them?

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