My friends all know that I’m not one for anime. I would much rather watch a live-action film, and that’s usually what I do. However, that means that I tend to have much higher standards for animated films, and I chose Paprika as the first one to review. Before discussing any plot, characters or themes, take a look at the opening credits. The animation style and technique are so important in this film that you should first see it and then consider everything else in context.
That’s what makes Satoshi Kon such a master of animation and what, I think, separates him from Hayao Miyazaki. His manipulation of perspective, reality and environment is unparalleled. That said, at times it feels as though the plot is meant to serve this style; like certain parts were written simply because they would be cool to animate. Nothing Transformers isn’t guilty of.
The film sets up with three characters, [right to left] Dr. Atsuko Chiba, Dr. Tokita and Dr. Shima. Their product under development, the DC Mini, is an apparatus that allows dreams to be viewed and even entered by others for the purpose of psychotherapy. When a prototype is stolen, there are severe consequences. Atsuko is the main character, a serious businesswoman and researcher. Tokita is a child-like genius, who created the DC Mini, and Shima is their diminutive, but good-natured department head.
Before long, it becomes apparent that even without the DC Mini, the thief can send people into dream states where they hallucinate. The first ‘victim’ of the strange dreams ends up in a dream-parade, shown above. Because the team has no idea who stole the DC Mini or where they could be, the only way to find out is to enter the dreams. Atsuko has had plenty of experience entering dreams under the guise of her dream alter ego, Paprika.
At this point a lot of this should be sounding familiar. Technology that allows people to enter other people’s dreams, using that power to criminally deceive others…it’s a lot like Inception. Or, I should say, Inception is a lot like Paprika. Paprika was released in 2006, four years before Inception, and a few years before shooting even began. It’s been claimed in the media that Nolan cited Paprika as a major influence for Inception, although the two films are quite different. Still, I’m not sure this is coincidental:
Two women breaking mirrors in the street to get to a different plane. Again, could be coincidence. It’s cool, anyway.
So, as you would guess, Paprika has to enter the dream to save the day. It’s all drawn beautifully, and Kon has a lot of fun with the dream sequences. Throughout the film, the differences between Paprika and Atsuko rise to the surface and the fight to stop the dreams becomes somehow related with Atsuko’s effort to reconcile with her other self. Some of that serves as plot. But mostly there’s a lot of crazy dream stuff going on.
We have to go deeper? Oh right, wrong movie. As usual, I’m not giving away any plot that wouldn’t be on a DVD case. Paprika [and Atsuko] do their best to get to the bottom of the DC Mini’s disappearance with the help of a police officer who had been undergoing psychotherapy prior to the theft. His sub-plot is actually a bit interesting. And he’s an excuse for more cool animation effects.
Honestly, Millennium Actress is much better than Paprika in terms of plot. But the plot isn’t terrible, and the point of this movie is really just imaginative animation. And that really is enough to enjoy the entirety of the film. As one critic put it, Paprika isn’t a movie that’s meant to be understood so much as simply experienced — or maybe dreamed. And let’s face it, none of the live action movies I’ve reviewed have main characters jumping through TV screens.
Paprika is available on Netflix, and should be around at most movie stores because it’s a popular film. Anime might not be my favorite genre, but I have to give a nod to Paprika simply for being visually appealing. If you haven’t watched anime before and you’re concerned that it isn’t serious or that it lacks the depth of live action film, this may be the movie with which to broaden your horizons.