Based on a novel by Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui, Paprika is a 2006 animated movie brought to the big screen by respected anime director/writer Satoshi Kon. The film is currently available to buy in the UK thanks to Sony Pictures on both DVD and Blu Ray (woot, why isn’t it out on VHS? I refuse to upgrade my antiquated video cassette player!) Depending on where you shop you can snag a copy of this flick online for around a fiver, although I got my version as a freebie gift when subscribing to the excellent Asian entertainment magazine Neo.
The movie revolves around psychiatrist Doctor Atsuko Chiba who is treating patients with the aid of an experimental device called the DC Mini (not to be confused with the popular Apple iPod Mini.) Said doohickey allows the user to enter, view, record and interact with a sleeper’s dreams. As you can imagine the unit could prove to be an invaluable tool in analyzing a patient’s subconscious psyche, but as Chiba soon learns it can also be a dangerous gadget in the wrong hands. Early on in the film it is revealed that a prototype DC Mini has been stolen, from the research lab it was being developed at, and is linked to some nasty incidents were victims have fallen afoul of waking hallucinations.
Much of the film deals with the investigation into the Mini’s theft by detective Konakawa, who has been receiving counseling from Chiba, and his police partner Osanai. Chiba herself gets embroiled in the case along with colleagues Dr Tokita (the childlike fatso inventor of the mini) and veteran scientist Dr Shima when it is revealed that a former co-worker of theirs may be the culprit responsible for stealing the gizmo. Can they bring the perpetrator to justice before more people are harmed? It’s a race against time as the research chairman, who isn’t too happy about technology being used to invade the private dreams of an individual, threatens to scrap the DC Mini project due to the dangers of its misuse.
As you would expect from a Satoshi Kon movie the mystery being told will include a few twists and turns that challenge the viewer’s perception of what is real and what is fantasy. In this particular science fiction film the blurring of reality is explained by a machine, but the movie’s structure harkens back to Kon’s other works – notably the classic animated feature Perfect Blue and the anime series Paranoia Agent. Both those examples comprise of a case were illusion distorts the real world either due to delusions or supernatural means.
My issue with Paprika is that it feels like Kon is going back to the well and dredging up old ideas that have already been explored in his previous works. The surreal Perfect Blue and Paranoia Agent were genius storytelling that felt fresh and unique to anything else in the anime market. Paprika on the other hand is guilty of recycling both story and visual concepts from the aforementioned examples. Even the intriguing notion of exploring a slumbering person’s mind has been visited and arguably presented better in movies like Inception or The Cell.
From a strictly critical standpoint it could be argued that Paprika deserves a rating of at least four stars. It’s a competently put together film with a clever story, strong dialogue and gorgeous artwork/animation that can flip from realistic to a colorful explosion of zaniness at any time during the dream sequences. I didn’t however have much fun watching it, so as a viewer I can only award it three stars. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I warmed to the characters, but none of them took my fancy. Chiba for example is too somber and composed for my liking (although her personality transforms when she enters the dream world and adopts the persona of her free spirited alter ego Paprika.)
What hurts the movie the most, in my eyes, would have to be the dull second act. It puts a damper on a strong opening that hooks viewers in with the fascinating idea of dream diving and a potentially engrossing heist mystery. Ironically the tale about dreams started to put me to sleep at the midway point due to the slow pacing. Thankfully the feature is saved by the final showdown – an exciting collage of weird dreams that proves to be an ophthalmic treat. Overall I would say Paprika isn’t Satoshi Kon’s best work, but his take on the land of nod isn’t a nightmare either.