Paprika Review – An insane journey through dream and reality
Mind-boggling is what I want to describe this movie. This will blow your mind, oscillating you between bewilderment and amazement. If you are a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, you should probably know what inspired the story; yes, it is a 2006 Japanese animation movie called Paprika. According to several sources (unfortunately, after some searching I couldn’t find where it is originally quoted from), Nolan has cited it as a key influence for his 2010 feature film. While both movies cover similar subject matter and use the same kind of technological concept, they’re fundamentally different and the plots move in different directions.
Japanese animation is notorious with its eccentricity since the community at large welcomes any sort of experimental weirdness, and Satoshi Kon, as one of the most influential filmmakers to specialize in animation, had channeled his exceptional idea and ingenuity through four completed feature films and a television mini-series. Paprika is the fourth movie that Satoshi Kon directed and his last feature film before his death in 2010 at the age of 46. This is the second of his works I’ve watched (previously Perfect Blue). If you have watched more than one movie of Satoshi Kon you must realize something, the topic he wanted to present, and his editing. Time and space were somewhat the concepts he was keen on probing, as apparent in both Paprika and Perfect Blue, where he explored the realm of realities, dreams, fantasy, and illusions. The opening four minutes of Paprika alone will tell you just how much of a visionary artist he was.
Paprika blurs the line between dream and reality, it is a vivid and bizarre trip through the conscious and subconscious, where dream and waking life are clashing, colliding, and blending as one. With how out of ordinary everything looks, the overall effect makes Paprika a surrealist film, which reminds me so much of Dali’s works. In Paprika we get to see countless oddities that are our dreams. Visually, Paprika is impeccable, and very superior, given that it was released in 2006. It is peculiar and inventive, generating things that would be impossible to be actualized with actors in a live-action. The camera shifts, changes, and cuts from one image to another. The animation establishes a dream-like atmosphere which is probably as close to actual dreaming.
Paprika is a story about the future, where a machine is developed for psychotherapy treatment to help people with neurological and psychological disorders. The device is called DC Mini, it’s invented by a morbidly obese scientist named Kosaku Tokita, it allows users to view, enter into, manipulate, or even share a dream, so psychiatrists can aid their patients to work through their subconscious issues. Since the devices are said to be unregulated, the misuse of the technology will be very dangerous. Therefore, when three prototypes are stolen, Doctor Chiba Atsuko, one of the researchers, takes matter into her own hands to recover the missing items and solve the mystery behind it before more damage is done.
The plot seems straightforward, yet it relies on heavy subject, and with the number of things that are happening, most of the time we will find ourselves having trouble wrapping our heads around exactly what’s going on. The story itself is very tight and fast-paced, it doesn’t give us a time to take a breath and mull over a scene for too long. Some may find certain things confusing, so, let’s answer some questions that many mostly ask; who is Paprika? And how does the machine work exactly?
WHO IS PAPRIKA?
We have seen Paprika from the beginning, helping a detective named Konakawa through his dream. Essentially, Paprika is the dream alter-ego persona of Dr. Atsuko Chiba, who is a collected, rather cold, and standoffish woman, in contrast to Paprika’s charming, energetic, and carefree personality. However, as the story goes, Paprika seems to have her own life and acts independently. She becomes more like a guardian angel and assists Chiba in the real world.
WHAT IS DC MINI?
What about the DC Mini? From the opening after the sequences of Konakawa’s dream, we can see that the DC Mini is a headset-like machine and it takes two tools — one planted to a patient, and one is on the psychotherapist — to share a dream. After learning that the device has been stolen, Dr. Atsuko Chiba reported that the engineer, Tokita, hasn’t programmed access control for the DC Mini. Atsuko explained the consequences, “That means the person who stole the DC Mini can connect to a psychotherapy machine anytime, from any place. And they can use the data stored in the Mini to exploit the minds of the people who connected to the machine.”
The first major hallucination starts with Doctor Shima when he suddenly rattles on about frogs and dancing girls before jumping through a glass window. Afterward, we discover that his dream has been tampered with. The dream-like illusion happens as well to Atsuko during their investigation in one of the researchers suspected of being the culprit. She jumps over a railing on the ground, but then reality warps before her eyes to reveal that she’s jumping over a balcony.
Over lunch right after the incident, Tokita breaks down, “DC Mini uses transmission formula within the nature width of the body energy’s level. Depending on the frequency of the use, the body might adapt to it.” At that, Osanai concludes, “Dr. Chiba who has had the most exposure was more susceptible to invasion even when she wasn’t connected to DC-Mini nor was she asleep.” Now we know that DC Mini can remotely touch the minds of people who have interacted with it in the past.
Kon’s fascinating editing and visual have made Paprika able to deliver a dreamscape that obscures the sense of fantasy and reality. It seems like you’re walking on your consciousness, but later find yourself in a grip of your subconscious. This is where your decision-making is being tested, where you slowly drift away from the path of logic. It all feels like it makes sense until at a certain point it doesn’t. You are not aware when certain things happen or why they happen at all. This is like slipping into an illusion or like dreaming but you’re awake. Paprika captures this perfectly through brilliant use of visual techniques, such as various match cuts to transport us from one place to another. The line between reality and dream is blurred not just for the characters, but for audiences as well.
One key element in the movie that often shows up during the dream sequences is the parade. Accompanied by Susumu Hirasawa’s merry cheery music, this insane parade full of odd-looking entities–like living household appliances, weird dolls, statues, frogs that play instruments, etcetera–can be described like a tumor. The first time it appears is on Shima’s dream, later it spreads between individual dreams until at one point, the parade barges into the real world and breaks down the boundaries between dream and reality, uniting everything and turning everyone into an enormous, vivid carnival of madness.
Paprika is definitely a masterpiece, a culmination of Kon’s journey as a director and a filmmaker. Some things are definitely confusing. At first, I got distracted easily, and I didn’t know what to put my focus on when everything happens all at once. But overall the movie conveys its message clearly; the subconscious realm, how to deal with trauma and move forward, the misuse of technology, social phenomenon, how to deal with our repressed feeling, and so on. Aside from the main theme, each character has their own aspects and moments, they serve their purpose very well. Paprika is rather dark with its heavy subject matter, yet the dazzling, colorful animation and the joyful music theme composed by Susumu Hirasawa create somewhat a spooky, unnerving mind-trip.
It is always a tragedy to see a visionary and a genius creator like him die so early. In just four features and one TV series, Satoshi Kon developed a unique style of editing that distorted and warped space and time. Even years after his passing, we still haven’t quite caught up to him. I think we will always be indebted to him for allowing us the joy to revel in his amazing works.