(Left to Right): Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Paprika
This is the third and the last of my movie review series about the films of Satoshi Kon, one of the most acclaimed anime directors of our generation. You may check out my reviews for his other films Perfect Blue (1997) here and Millennium Actress/ Sennen Joyu (2001) over here.
This time I’ll be reviewing Paprika (2006), which became Satoshi Kon’s final anime film when his struggle with cancer resulted to his untimely death at the age of 46 in 2010. I thought Paprika was great and fully showcased Satoshi Kon’s signature gentle yet wildly imaginative visual style that definitely pushed the envelope of the anime medium.
Set in Japan in the very near future, Paprika is a classic science fiction tale of what happens when an incredible device—in this case a device that allows people to see and enter into dreams of others—falls into nefarious hands. At the beginning of the story, the newly created device called DC Mini is being used by detective Konakawa for an experimental treatment of his anxiety that’s being conducted by an enigmatic woman named Paprika. However, a DC Mini gets stolen from the lab and the unknown culprit threatens to waste a lot of minds, and the project is jeopardized. The culprit is able to use the DC Mini to invade the unconsciousness of people who are not even attached to a psychotherapy machine which results to making them act erratic, lapse into a coma or may experience something much worse. This prompts Dr. Chiba, one of the chief researchers on the project, to team up with her colleagues, Konakawa and eventually Paprika to discover who’s behind the theft.
The experience of watching Paprika, to say the least, was a head trip guided by our pixie adventuress Paprika as we swing into one unconscious to another, finding clues of who might the culprit be. Paprika was one of the few animated films that struck a chord in me as a fan of the animated medium and it remains to be one of the most wildly and disturbingly inventive animated films I’ve seen. Kon lets us experience this psychoanalytic sci-fi thriller of shifting from one plane of reality to the dream sequence by making full use of the power of animation: vibrant and fluid movements conveys a sense of surrealism that’s convenient for a thought-provoking ride. The animation is genius and it’s one of the things I loved about Paprika. A dash of bright colors here and there in the contemporary pop-psychological world of Japan that we’re introduced to. It was incredibly weird, psychedelic and creepy but I love things like those and Paprika works for me.
Here Paprika makes a point. In the plot, the concept of dreams is that they’re windows into other realities and have great power. The concern of our central character is that, knowing this fact, the DC Mini is like a gate and lets the dream world escape from our minds and materialize in concrete solidity right here in the real world. Once fully materialize in the real world, the dreams begin to ‘infect’ other people’s dreams and this intersecting mass of dreams keep growing and begin to physically cause damage and chaos to reality. Note that not all those things stocked in our subconscious and dreams are all nice and pretty things. Dr. Chiba, Paprika, Konakawa and the rest are trying to prevent this at the same time finding out which psychopath is responsible for it.
I also like that Paprika features each of the characters’ psychological state throughout the film especially Dr. Chiba’s and Konakawa. In the movie, dreams were also treated not as a private place but an alternate psychological world where we can also battle with our inner struggles such as the case of Konakawa and an embodiment of our collective subconscious, an inner self – like Dr. Chiba.
I’ve noticed a lot of people compare it to Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed film Inception (2010), which is another film that I loved. Both films tackle the idea that the dream journey is a permeable experience and an extension of external reality, where experienced ‘lucid dreamers’ or in this case, dream detectives effect their goals by establishing a connection between the dream and the waking world. Paprika is not so much of a detective or espionage story the way Inception was but still delivers a good plot and a charm of its own. I understand that their plots are no where similar, but there are indeed parallels.
Overall, it was an enormous mind fuck (but in a good kind of way), breathtaking twists and definitely kept me guessing until the end. And of course, it provided an excellent and gorgeous visual experience with a wonderful, eerie soundtrack to match although I don’t think I’d recommend that you watch it high. It can definitely bewilder some viewers (especially some scenes involving body horror) and I have to say it gets especially tough to follow beyond the half of the movie when the boundary between dreams and reality blur so you really have to pay close attention. But I think it’s definitely worth the watch.
I loved Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Paprika in their own way although if I were to rank the three, I would say I’d give Perfect Blue the top spot and Paprika the second. But that’s just me and these three films are great and are highly recommended for anime fans, film buffs or if you’re just looking for something new and different for a watch.
What are your thoughts regarding Paprika and Satoshi Kon’s other movies or any of his work that I haven’t mentioned yet? I would love to hear you guys share some insights or any ideas about it.