How 'Inception' Ripped Off 'Paprika,' The Original Dream-Traveling Anime

Movie-goers and critics alike lauded Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception as an imaginative, complex, and visually rewarding look into the inner workings of the dream world, and there are plenty of other shows and movies like Inception as well. What many anime aficionados noticed, however, was that Inception was a lot like Paprika, Satoshi Kon's 2006 animated film that also delved into the concept of dreams versus reality. 

While there are a host of films with similar plots, some Paprika fans feel the intricacies and influence of the anime on Inception go beyond homage and toes the line of plagiarism. But did Inception rip off Paprika?

  • What Exactly Is 'Paprika'?

    What Exactly Is 'Paprika'?
    Photo: Paprika / Madhouse

    Paprika was created by acclaimed director Satoshi Kon. Premiering in 2006, it was Kon's last feature film before his death in 2010. It won the Tokyo Anime Award for Best Music in 2007, and the Newport Beach Film Festival named it best animated feature film in 2007. It was based on a 1993 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui.

    In the film, a technology lab creates a revolutionary device called the DC Mini. The device, which allows entry into the world of dreams, is originally intended for therapeutic use. Used correctly, it can help get to the root of psychological problems and potentially heal mental illness. Used incorrectly, it can cause a mental breakdown. 

    When the DC Mini is stolen, people start behaving in unusual and dangerous ways, triggering the police to hunt down the thief. As dreams begin to blur with reality, things get increasingly surreal. 

  • 'Inception' Also Delves Deeply Into The Dream World

    'Inception' Also Delves Deeply Into The Dream World
    Photo: Inception / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Inception hit theaters in 2010. It was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, known for his work on Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Dunkirk. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page. 

    The plot centers on Dominick Cobb, a thief who enters the dreams of high-ranking businesspeople to steal their corporate secrets. In exchange for amnesty for his crimes, he's given the inverse task of planting an idea into a CEO's head. A violent dream manifestation of his guilty feelings over his wife's death gets in the way of this task.

  • Both Films Feature Seedy People Breaking Into Dreams

    Both films feature characters with less than pure motives using futuristic technology to invade people's dreams and influence their minds. In Inception, it's the protagonist Cobb entering the dreams of corporate bigwigs to steal their business secrets. In Paprika, it's Dr. Inui who uses the DC Mini to merge dreams and reality in order to take over the world.

    While both characters desire different kinds of power,  they're illicitly entering dreams for their personal benefit. The details may be different, but the basic premise is the same.

  • Both Involve Breaking Into People's Dreams To Help Them

    Both films also showcase the positive side of dream invasion. In Paprika, the DC Mini is originally intended as a psychiatric tool to help medical professionals understand their patients' interior lives and provide more effective therapy.

    In Inception, the dream-altering technology is largely used for economic gain, but it ends up serving as a healing tool for both Richard Fischer, the CEO whose subconscious the protagonist enters, and the protagonist himself. This inversion could be seen as original on its own, but when combined with all the other similarities, it feels like a rip-off.

  • In Both Movies, The Line Between Dreams And Reality Are Blurred

    In both Inception and Paprika, dreams blur with reality until no one can tell which is which. In Paprika, dreams literally merge with reality, creating countless displays of chaotic beauty, ranging from people sprouting butterfly wings to the title character's face splitting open to reveal a doll.

    In Inception, things are a little more muted, but the dream world has a very real impact on the character's waking lives. Scenes like a whole city folding in on itself thanks to the power of dreams drive this point home. 

  • There Are Some Shot For Shot Similarities

    Inception and Paprika aren't just rife with similar plot elements; in some cases, they're the same shot for shot. In Inception, when Cobb is explaining to Ariadne how dream construction works, she touches what appears to be air, and it shatters. In Paprika, the title character touches and shatters a piece of the dream when she realizes it has started to fall apart. 

    In another Paprika scene, Konokawa, a police officer who has been undergoing treatment via the DC Mini, sees a man mid-fall in a hallway. A scene in Inception involves a mid-air fight in a hotel hallway. While the two don't look exactly the same, they're similar enough to raise some eyebrows.