Paprika (2006) adapted from a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui
What’s it about?
This anime adaptation of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1993 novel of the same name is a sci-fi fantasy based around a revolutionary technology called the DC Mini which allows therapists to help their patients by entering their dreams. Doctor Atsuko Chiba is one such therapist who assumes the persona of a red-haired heroine named Paprika as her dream alter-ego. Amongst her patients is a detective named Toshimi Konakawa who has a recurring nightmare which starts off with him being pursued by a group of people (all of whom have the same face as he does) at a circus and ends with him falling to his death.
While she attempts to assist him with his issues, however, a more pressing problem occurs. Someone has stolen a DC Mini and is using it to terrorise people’s dreams via a creepy parade of toys which have come to life. One victim of such an attack is Chiba’s elderly boss, Doctor Toratarō Shima. In the nick of time, she manages to save him before he deteriorates mentally and physically beyond the point of no return. Chiba, Shima and the DC Mini’s inventor Doctor Kōsaku Tokita decide to team up to put a stop to this mysterious attacker for good.
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Why is it significant?
Paprika was the last feature-length film to be completed by the acclaimed manga artist and anime director Satoshi Kon before he passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2010 at the age of just 46. It was well-received by most critics and has gone on to gain a considerable following from anime buffs worldwide.
The film has also been cited as an inspiration behind Christopher Nolan’s critical and commercial hit Inception (2010). On the other hand, the idea of people being able to enter and/or influence the dreams of others to potentially destructive effect had been dealt with before on film - for example, in Dreamscape and A Nightmare on Elm Street (both 1984) as well in as the latter’s numerous sequels.
How does it hold up?
Paprika isn’t one of the easiest films to follow, flitting back and forth as it does between reality and various dream locations. At times, the film deliberately disorientates the viewer by appearing to take place in the real world and then making it abundantly clear that what we were experiencing was a dream all along. Puzzle pieces often click together in retrospect; a frenetic opening credits sequence (taking place over a spine-jangling electro-pop soundtrack) shows us the character of Paprika playfully flipping between different “realities” of a nighttime cityscape and those taking place within the advertising billboards that sit atop its towering buildings. The exhilarating sense of unbound freedom dissipates as we see Paprika’s face fading into that of her real-life counterpart, Atsuko Chiba who is on her drive back to her apartment.
Whereas Inception kept its various levels of consciousness looking relatively realistic from a visual standpoint, Paprika plays it all with wild abandon and shameless imaginative indulgence. The detective’s dreams are presented as a series of action and adventure movie tropes with him swinging through a jungle on a vine and scuffling with an assailant in a train carriage. This all leads to a later payoff with him kissing a woman whom he has rescued in front of an applauding cinema audience. The toy parade is a riot of colourful wind-up frogs, beckoning cats and sinister-looking bunraku dolls. At one point, Paprika/Chiba escapes by jumping into a painting and turning into the mythical creature depicted therein. The finale pays homage to kaiju monster movies via a showdown between two huge beings towering over the surrounding city.
A wild but intelligent ride
While the film is largely to be taken as a wildly fantastical ride there are some interesting themes interwoven. There are ethical questions raised about the sanctity and privacy of human thoughts. The double-edged sword of new technology being used to both constructive and destructive ends is another theme broached upon which is particularly pertinent nowadays. The film also looks at how art and culture influence the content of dreams, being as they are depicted here full of movie tropes, traditional toys, paintings and so on. What the dreams lack in logical rules they make up for in lateral rules; the power of those who dwell within the dream world appears to be limited only by the constraints of imagination as we see Paprika gracefully flit around on clouds, jump into 2D images, or pull a man out of his dream world by inflating him and popping him as a balloon.
Paprika’s artwork and animation is amongst the top drawer of anime. Each scene has a wealth of detail and movement with the aforementioned “toy parade” being a particular standout. There are also a few CGI moments amongst the hand-drawn animation which stand out a little too noticeably nowadays. However, this is only really a minor issue which pops up during a handful of occasions. The soundtrack is equally involving and effervescent.
Along with Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness (1973), Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira (1988), Satoshi Kon’s earlier Perfect Blue, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and others, Paprika is a classic example of how wildly imaginative and far ahead of the curve much Japanese anime has been.
Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: Satoshi Kon
Script: Seishi Minakami and Satoshi Kon, adapted from a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui