I’d heard about Satoshi Kon thanks to Tony Zhou’s video on it, and I knew that this director had a taste for the surreal and some creative editing as storytelling. I also know that movies like Paprika were a big inspiration for modern-day mind-benders like Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Naturally, I had to see how the original work compared.
Set in the modern day, Doctor Atsugo Chiba and her research team have developed a device known as the DC Mini, which allows people to enter and share dreams for therapeutic purposes. However, one of the devices goes missing, and a terrorist begins to invade people’s dreams with the same recurring fantasy of a wild parade, slowly overtaking their minds. To find and stop this madman, Chiba uses the help of a police detective named Konakawa and her own dream avatar, Paprika, to surf through the world of dreams before the line separating dreams and reality collapses.
Our main character is unique in that she’s actually two different characters–or rather, two personas who belong to the same person. In the real world, she’s Dr. Atsuge Chiba, a dream technology researcher who helped create the DC Mini and who stands out for her cold, analytical exterior. But go into the world of dreams, and she manifests as Paprika, a bubbly, adventurous young woman who can handle any transition without flinching. What’s really neat is how Paprika operates. She does typical heroic actions like fighting monsters and demons inside people’s dreams, but she’s also a therapist, always looking to help her patients find the root of their psychological issues as manifested in dreams.
The first 5 minutes sees a series of wild cuts between different dreams, all connected by the same two characters: Paprika and Detective Toshimi Konakawa. It’s Konakawa’s dreams and nightmares that Paprika leads us through, helping him unravel an anxiety problem. Then, once the dreams end and they wake up in reality, they go over footage and discuss REM sleep cycles and how different patterns are like different film genres.
That sequence right there tells you exactly what kind of movie you’re in for. Satoshi Kon gets to be more metafictional in a way that Christopher Nolan could only dream of in Inception. But, to be fair, Nolan was making a character-driven action thriller with a philosophical subtext, just like he did with his Dark Knight trilogy. Kon is going for something different with Paprika.
Much like in his movie Perfect Blue, the editing here is fluid and jarring. We have continuity and parallel cuts, but tons of visual shortcuts and impossible angles that leave us wondering where the dreams end and reality begins. But where Perfect Blue plays these cuts for horror and suspense, Paprika goes for a more lighthearted approach. Mima Kirigoe is haunted with visions that aren’t real, but Atsuko Chiba knows she’s dreaming and plays around with the idea.
I will say, and maybe it’s more the fault of the English dub team than the original Japanese writers, that some of the dialogue in this film can be a bit clunky. To be fair, sometimes that’s what needed, as the people affected by the shared dream psychosis end up spouting off colorful, poetic gibberish. But in other scenes, even the straight-up exposition is a weird avalanche of technobabble and attempts at humor between friends. Not that this ruins the movie, mind you. The story is still engaging and so are the characters. Every scene between Paprika and Detective Konakawa really shines out in this film.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Satoshi Kon’s work, you might still enjoy Paprika. It’s a more subdued psychological thriller, where the action sequences are more surreal than anything. But every millimeter of film is chock full of amazing detail and color that will leave you breathless and hungry for more.
Bibliography: Paprika. Directed by Satoshi Kon. Produced by Jungo Maruta and Masao Takiyama. Screenplay by Seishi Minakami and Satoshi Kon. Based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Madhouse (studio). Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan (distributor). Original release date (Japan): November 25, 2006.