The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Paprika

Title: Paprika
Genre: Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: Movie; 86 minutes.
Dates: 25 Nov 2006

Synopsis: Chiba Atsuko is a doctor who has access to the DC Mini, a revolutionary device in psychotherapy that allows the user to enter the patient’s dreams and subconscious thoughts. Atsuko begins using this device illegally to help patients, transforming into her alter ego, Paprika, when she enters the dream world. However, the prototypes are stolen before safety measures are installed, and the unknown culprit uses them to enter others’ dreams against their will.

The Highlights
Style: Surreal yet vibrant and upbeat. Very different tone from the eeriness of Paranoia Agent.
Plot: A few good twists.
Characters: Well-written. Gap between outer self and inner self is exemplified by Chiba and Paprika.

Kon Satoshi is a man that needs little introduction. His movies range in tone from the romantic and dramatic  Millennium Actress to the disconcerting thriller Perfect Blue. The thread that connects his works – the motif of dreams versus reality – is made literal in Paprika, a movie about a device that lets users explore others’ dreams. The famed illusionist does a good job of distinguishing and blending reality with fiction here, but the disorienting style manages to be thematically relevant while still operating as a mind-bending technique. The protagonist Chiba and her technological alter-ego Paprika have such distinct personalities that they seem to be entirely different characters. The dream world is also drawn differently than reality, featuring brighter colours and plausible absurdities that resemble actual dreams. The distinction between dreams and reality is mirrored by the Chiba/Paprika binary, giving thematic weight to what could easily have been a narrative gimmick used only for suspense.

But if Paprika‘s best quality is its story that intertwines itself with plot devices and broad metaphors, the quality that makes this story stand out in the first place is its unusually upbeat tone. The soundtrack makes this apparent as soon as the opening credits play: synthesized vocals, I believe from a Vocaloid, accompany an upbeat and slightly mysterious pop melody as Paprika soars through city screens and billboards. The dreams’ surreality tend to be more unusual than scary, quite unlike the fear that permeates all of the dreams in Perfect Blue. There are several amusing adventure sequences that appear as a result, often involving Paprika donning exotic costumes and venturing through extravagant scenery like the depths of a forest or the middle of a desert. It even puts a positive spin on the technology that causes the main conflict rather than criticize it. I feel that this sense of adventure carries through the rest of the film, which is a pleasant surprise considering the predictable grimness of other works in the genre. Of course, this playfulness also adds emotional weight to the few disconcerting scenes.

Paprika is also a solid technical achievement, though most of its aesthetic appeal comes from the aforementioned playfulness and sense of adventure. Paprika’s character is largely defined by her body language and movement since her dialogue is sparse. The animators contrast her exaggerated movements and physically-engaging adventures (one of which involves flying through a forest as a fairy) with Chiba’s slow, restrained actions. Chiba is a scientist and a bit of an introvert, after all, so she is portrayed more temperately than Paprika.

While the film’s plot is engaging and thought-provoking (if vague), this alone adds little to Kon‘s ouvre. What really makes the movie such a pleasure to watch is its rejection of previous Kon mainstays – namely, illusion being synonymous with fear or harmful lies – and its fusion of the lighthearted adventure story with the grim, high-stakes sci-fi thriller. Dichotomies fill the story, and by the end of it, one can practically list the ways in which the dream/reality binary is echoed in the characters, setting, and even genre. Paprika is deep in a far more interesting way than works with philosophy-laden monologues and overbearing symbolism: it takes one or two broad concepts, expresses them in countless ways and mediums throughout the film, and paints over them with a sci-fi adventure that’s fun to watch in its own right.

The Rating: 9
9/10

Reviewed by: Eternal

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