“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Science Fiction / Theatrical Release: 2006 / Director: Satoshi Kon / Actors: Megumi Hayashibara, Akio Ohtsuka ... / DVD released 24 September, 2007 at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, PAL „
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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.
Satoshi Kon's production hit its peak in 2004 when, following Tokyo Godfathers the previous year, he embarked on creating the 13-episode TV series Paranoia Agent. For a director who'd made his name with thought-provoking and visually splendorous feature films, the fact that he then decided to tackle a TV series was certainly an unexpected move, but which paid off tremendously. In many ways Paranoia Agent could be seen as a summation of everything Kon had done up to that point in terms of character psychologies, interesting conceptual ideas, and exploring different filming techniques without sacrificing the quality of his output for a different medium. And when the series eventually concluded, one could almost say that Kon had done a full rotation in his career, as what he followed Paranoia Agent with was to take on a project he had been projecting to do for close to ten years: an adaptation of Yasutaka Tsutsui's 1993 novel Paprika. Kon had already been planning on doing this film as early as immediately following his first film, Perfect Blue, but was forced to put the project on the backburner when he had to concentrate on handling the situation of Perfect Blue's original distribution company going bankrupt. And as he then engaged himself with writing his own screenplays for his following productions, it wasn't until 2006 that he finally got around to returning to adapting Paprika into a screenplay with the assistance of Seishi Minakami.
Taciturn psychiatrist Atsuko Chiba and her associate, the child-like genius Kohsaku Tokita, have created a machine that allows a person to enter another's dreams and record what they are seeing as the means for groundbreaking psychological analysis to help determine the individual's inner problems. Tokita essentially is the master creator of the machine itself - called the DC Mini - while Chiba works within the patient's dreams under the more lively and colourful alter ego persona of "Paprika", basically a free'er split personality to Chiba's very matter-of-fact scientist half. The machine is still undergoing unofficial and illegal testing, while waiting for approval on their official use from the government, on the middle-aged detective Toshimi Konakawa, who is plagued by dreams of seeing his childhood friend being shot to death in a hotel corridor, and the killer getting away as he is unable to follow when his dream lacks a conclusion. However, things get complicated when the three DC Mini prototypes get stolen and very soon are turned against the public as somebody is using them to plant dreams into people's heads, trapping them into a living dream and opening the barrier between reality and the subconscious as the machines had not yet been programmed to feature safety features that would have prevented this from happening. Now it's up to Chiba and Paprika, with the help of Konakawa, to recover the machines and set the world back on track before the dreams fully consume the world in its entirety.
Paprika continues Kon's fascination of exploring the boundaries of the real world and that of fantasy, which had been a staple for pretty much all of his productions up to that point apart from Tokyo Godfathers. In this case it is the relation of dreams with that of the power of the subconscious, and how the imagination can have infinite possibilities that, when abused, can have serious consequences on the real world. This is particularly shown with how a machine designed to probe the human subconscious, thus opening it up for manipulation, is perverted by instead introducing dreams into the subconscious and essentially turning people into madly blithering lunatics lost in a world of unreality they can't escape from. And of course the big problem is that the longer they are exposed to their subconscious running amok, the less likely it is that they can ever get out again when the dream world gets too entrenched into their minds. This is showcased when another scientist and early suspect as the thief, Dr. Himuro, gets stuck in a dream of his own that eventually destroys his existence in the process by crumbling his mental barriers and reducing him into nothing more than a shell. This is further extolled by the psychiatric department chairman Inui who is abjectly against using dream probing since he considers dreams to be the last bastion where humans can still escape to from the stresses of the real world, and which he sees as something powerful humans shouldn't try to meddle with the use of science. However, his motives turn out to be all the more sinister when he attempts to discredit the machine's use, while becoming increasingly obsessed in becoming one with his precious dream world in itself.
Now Paprika is a film that some have criticised as being confusing, but personally I don't think there's anything all that confusing about it. When you just logically deconstruct it, everything becomes rather straightforward really, and doesn't throw you on quite as much of a loop as say Perfect Blue did in the director's canon. However, for all its interesting concepts and strong storytelling, I must also concede that this is perhaps the weakest of Kon's films. That is not to say Paprika is a bad movie. Far from it; but it is decidedly a film that doesn't quite reach the level of really any of his past productions. For one, the side plot of the unfinished dream that is plaguing the detective seems more like a separate divergence to somehow get him involved into the main story itself, but yields little actually in terms of true importance other than to showcase Paprika's methods of helping people and how the DC Mini really is supposed to work. And while this sidetrack isn't exactly completely separate from the main story either, the detective's problems don't truly add all too much to the basic plot. Now had the film been about helping this man come to terms with what ever is plaguing him by probing into his psyche, then his dream exploration could have provided some interesting psychological character studying. But as the detective's part as not actually being the main character, it just leaves the whole issue as something to be worked out beside the main story about converging dreams with the real world and the crime mystery of who is using the dream machines for terrorism, instead of being a truly vital aspect that would tie itself firmly into the fabric of the rest of the film. Also the pacing is at times a bit fast that doesn't entirely settle into a comfortable stride, though this isn't truly that much of a massive problem, but does feed into the instinctive feeling of not quite getting its pace right, something slightly also effected by the two plot strands not gelling together as mentioned above. And finally the big finale confrontation is just a bit too conveniently simple, yet a little incredulously over-the-top at the same time, thus failing to entirely satisfy despite its surreal imagery that doesn't seem to entirely fit together with what has gone on before irrespective of how surreal the film elsewhere has been.
But regardless of those criticisms, this still remains a very interesting film and provides a lot to engage one with. Past the intriguing plot itself, which presents a lot of fanciful thoughts regarding the human psyche via considering dreams as being something more than just responses generated through neural processes when asleep, it is also a true visual pleasure. This is kind of what I hoped I'd see in Inception when I heard of its premise, to be honest, but never really got, and Kon certainly laps on the possibilities dreams offer in terms of visually arresting splendour with great imaginary gusto. The most striking aspect is definitely the colourful dream parade of toys, dolls, Tori gates, walking refrigerators, and frogs in a band that march inexorably forward in full carnival paraphernalia, coaxed forward by the influence of the dream machines to merge with other dreams and, eventually, the real world. It is incredibly surreal and just what you'd want to see in a film that deals so much with dreams. Particularly that giant kabuki doll that destroys an office building like Godzilla toward the end is certainly one of the greatest creepy mindf*cks you'll likely ever see. Likewise there's a lot of freely flowing jumping from one type of dream state to another that melds together 2D and 3D effects to a surprisingly fluid execution that is both warped and interesting to look at. Admittedly the characters tend to remain playing second fiddle to the visuals and the general story itself at times, seeing as Kon here doesn't truly go out of his way to provide particularly deep psychological portraits of his characters as he did in say Perfect Blue and Paranoia Agent... which is slightly disappointing seeing as a lot of the story actually stems from the realm of psychoanalysis and associated dreams to begin with. This is truly a film that sees its story and conceptual outlook of its science as being more important than necessarily its characters, though that is not to say the people remain completely devoid of anything interesting in them, as that is certainly not the case.
Speaking of the characters, a lot of them also seem to be close to the basic archetypes of Kon characters that, particularly after seeing Paranoia Agent, will seem familiar in many ways. Such as the main character of Dr. Chiba/Paprika being almost a mix of Perfect Blue's Mima and the split-personality teacher in Paranoia Agent in how the different personas are essentially mirror images of each other, with the doctor half being almost devoid of emotional connections to others, just as her Paprika self is more socially open and thus better equipped to draw the confidences of her dream patients. Yet both seem to be more autonomous people than really different facets of the same psyche, which particularly is exemplified as the merging dreams cause both to become separate people entirely, but who need to find a way to coexist in a way that allows both to work together for the same goal. Like Paprika says "You're always trying to be in control, so you're no better than the chairman, but how do you know I'M not really your true personality?" Likewise the detective seems a close variant of the similar detective in Paranoia Agent in both good and bad, mostly for just not being quite as deep as a character as his previous incarnation; the older scientist Dr. Shima is very much in line with Kon's other cooky elderly characters; and the chairman Inui makes for a rather predictable antagonist right down to his general creepiness. The two other characters that stand out beside Chiba/Paprika are firstly the chairman's assistant Morio Osanai, who makes for a rather effectively creepy stalker aside his very ordinary exterior, particularly when he has managed to get Paprika captured and then proceeds to rip open her skin to reveal his real obsession of Dr. Chiba inside, making a great show for his shifting selfish loyalties. And secondly there's the overly-obese and naïvely genius scientist Tokita, a childlike person with a monster IQ, who provides more of the humour in the film, though also is delightfully shown to not be a complete Rain Man type character either that could have been easy to accomplish. Rather he is naïve and makes judgemental mistakes while fully knowing he is a genius, but also doesn't make that much of a show about it. However, it really is the Chiba and Paprika duo that make the greatest impact over all the other characters, and provide enough to be interested in to keep one following them up to the end as they move from being two parts of opposite personalities, to seeing their need to exist as complementary sides of the same person.
Overall, Paprika may not be Satoshi Kon's very best film, but even as it stands, anything Kon did is always worth seeing in my book, and any disappointment is really only due to having seen just how much better Kon could be when at his best. Voice acting is solid throughout with Tooru Furuya as Tokita, Kooichi Yamadera as Osanai, and Akio Ootsuka as Konakawa being particularly good. And call me an otaku geek if you want to, but I always get a kick out of hearing Megumi Hayashibara do voice work even if her role as Chiba/Paprika perhaps isn't her very best. Still, she does pull off an interesting duality between the two personas that at times made me wonder if they were voiced by two different people entirely. And as a fun little note, the director and the original writer of the novel also make cameos as the voices of two scientists targeted by the DC Mini in one short scene. Likewise the music of Susumu Hirasawa provides a nice sense of creepiness to the film's sonic landscape, the march of the parade being particularly an infectiously fun piece of music. He also pioneered the use of Vocaloid in this score, which is essentially software featuring sampled vocals as if on a piano roll, and which can then be used to synthetically imitate real voices without the need to actually have a live singer. In the final analysis, despite its faults, Paprika still remains a very interesting film in and of itself. It provides some interesting conceptual ideas and is a true visual fest like you'd want to see a film about dreams being like. It may feel confusing as some people have complained on first viewing, and its conclusion may be a bit too over-the-top to work all the way through, but Paprika is still recommended watching, and which makes it all the worse that it would remain the last film Kon had a chance to see through himself before his all too early death at only the age of 46. Satoshi, I will miss you.
© berlioz, 2011
"The mailbox and the refrigerator will lead the way! Anyone who cares about expiry dates will not stand in the way of the glory train! They need to fully realise the liver of the triangle goose party! Move forward! Come together! I am the ultimate Governor!"
Anime breeds a particularly potent brand of weird-and-wonderful as a natural by-product, but as a film that constantly treads a line between dreams and reality, Paprika is curiouser than most. Visually arresting, occasionally overwhelmingly so, and with perhaps the best soundtrack I've heard attached to a film, this feature from Japanese animators Madhouse is a full-on assault on the senses.
It would be unfair to describe Paprika as a triumph of style over substance, as there's a clever, well-plotted story beneath the vivid visuals, but this can get a little lost at times - a second viewing makes more sense of the initially hard-to-assemble pieces.
Based upon a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, the film supposes the invention of a device named the DC-mini; a gadget which records dreams visually like an internal tape-recorder, and allows them to be played back for analysis. When three of the DC-minis are stolen, it becomes apparent that they can be abused for extremely dangerous purposes, and with the line between dreams and reality starting to blur, the device's creators must search both real and imagined worlds to find the culprit.
Running alongside this story, we also follow a jaded police detective troubled by his dreams. Having sought help from this new technology, he too is pulled into a disorientating struggle to restore the balance between fantasy and reality. Here perhaps lie the most touching parts of the story, as Konakawa attempts to also balance his past and present selves.
A quite exceptional opening sequence (one of those aforementioned scenes which is better understood on repeat-viewing) sets the tone of the film; delightfully creative visuals that are at once adding aesthetic flourishes to the story and being inseparable elements of the story themselves. As glorious as these aspects are however, this isn't mesmerising storytelling in the vein of Studio Ghibli. Rather, it's a fairly standard (if well-crafted) Sci-fi story with lashings of anime poured on top - there are strong threads to the plot, but the narrative isn't always as absorbing as it perhaps should be.
The animation is for the most part hand-drawn, with a handful of computer-aided backgrounds thrown in. These don't always sit terribly neatly with the more traditionally drawn characters, although they're only infrequently used. Otherwise, the visuals are without fault - the dreamscapes being especially lucid and intense, including a stunningly-imagined parade sequence paired with the perfectly-composed theme music, which seems resonant of wild, limitless dreams.
I don't care for dubbed versions of anime on the whole, and this is no exception. For those so inclined, though, there are English and German versions alongside a host of subtitled options. Choose these, though, and you'll get a slightly different impression of the film - the subtitles don't match up with the dubbing, and the former seems to better match the action on-screen. The dubbed voices are well enough chosen, but are unremarkable, and seem to render the characters a little cold, missing a fraction of the life given them in the original-language version.
There's plenty to recommend in Paprika, and plenty to love - certainly gallons of style and imagination. It's perhaps unfair to compare the storytelling to Hayao Miyazaki's work, as little would stand up in such company. However, if you've exhausted the Ghibli catalogue, or fancy trying a slightly more mature piece of animation - spot the Blade Runner reference - this is an excellent choice whose aesthetic flair will endure in the memory.
Susumu Hirasawa is the inspired creator of the magical soundtrack to Paprika; his compositions are well worth tracking down in their own right.
I love this film!
Now i love most Anime films and tv series. It was my friend who told me about Paprika and i'm so glad she did.
I was watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films before this and as i know they are so good i was worried this might not be that good, but i was really impressed.
The story is a little complicated but it is basically about a machine that can look into peoples dreams. And there is a woman who has a spilt personality if thats the right way to put it and her dream form is called Paprika. I won't really go into the story much more as i might not explain it well.
The film is just so energetic, exciting and up lifting. I love the music from it, is so lively and energetic and really adds to the impact of this great film. I watched the film in english dub and the dubbed voices were good. I will later watch it in its original Japanese language.
The animation is amazing like most anime films, its so clear and a lot of work has been put into every scene and i never got bored whilst watching this film.