Three scientists at the Foundation for Psychiatric Research fail to secure a device they've invented, the D.C. Mini, which allows people to record and watch their dreams. A thief uses the device to enter people's minds, when awake, and distract them with their own dreams and those of others. Chaos ensues. The trio - Chiba, Tokita, and Shima - assisted by a police inspector and by a sprite named Paprika must try to identify the thief as they ward off the thief's attacks on their own psyches. Dreams, reality, and the movies merge, while characters question the limits of science and the wisdom of Big Brother.
Directed by: Satoshi Kon
. Starring: Megumi Hayashibara
, Tôru Furuya
, Kôichi Yamadera
, Katsunosuke Hori
, Tôru Emori
, Akio Ôtsuka
, Hideyuki Tanaka
, Satomi Kôrogi
, Daisuke Sakaguchi
, Mitsuo Iwata
, Rikako Aikawa
, Shin'ichirô Ôta
, Satoshi Kon
. Music by: Susumu Hirasawa
Satoshi Kon's final work Paprika is a colourful, energetic and surreal trip. It's a film that asks us 'what is reality?' and for the most part does a great job of exploring the relationship between dreams and the real world. Filled to the brim with remarkable visuals from Madhouse, a good level of story complexity and even some commentary on the topic of cinema itself, it's a big love letter to industry. While Paprika is a visual feast and directed with great attention to detail, it's a shame that the story sacrifices clarity for surrealism at moments when questions need to be answered. The story contains a mix of ideas touching on ethics, discovering one's purpose and what defines reality. Some of these ideas get ditched and others explored in greater detail, but the end result is still a very memorable film.
Our story follows Atsuko Chiba who uses newly created technology without permission, which allows people to share dreams, to help patients with stress in the form of an alter ego Paprika. Trouble starts when versions of the device with no security fall into the wrong hands. This would allow the culprit to enter the dreams of others and cause untold amounts of deeply rooted psychological damage, even enough to destroy one's psyche.
I found myself actually drawn more towards the story of detective Toshimi Konakawa and his attempt to understand why his dreams are affecting him deeply at a psychological level. He is without a doubt the most deeply explored character, as one of Chiba's patients. His attempt to overcome the unsolved case at his job is starting to toy with his mind and his past becomes caught up in these thoughts. Every time his dream came to the fore I was captivated. I thought the payoff for his journey was slightly underwhelming. Yet at the same time I knew the ending was only appropriate things take the direction they do considering the themes of the film - hiding our true feelings and creating a new reality so we don't have to face the other one.
It's only appropriate that our main character Chiba be the one to best represent the idea of discovering one's true self. While the film initially posits Paprika as a façade for her to treat others you start to question whether her fake persona is actually a better representation of her true self -' someone more free spirited and approachable. While the internal struggle isn't as plainly laid out for the viewer to see compared to Konakawa, it's definitely there. Kon's clever direction goes a long way to achieving this. From the repetitious use of glass to mirror Chiba's other side of herself or the almost unnoticeable cut between reality and dreamscapes, it all works. Chiba herself isn't actually that interesting of a character at face level, though that's quite intentional. She has a cold demeanor, exuding this barrier of defence around herself. Paprika acts as a means to express her repressed emotions. As a collective, the two more are complete and fulfill what the other lacks.
On my main criticism: Paprika as a film does little to explain the boundaries and the rules of its world and instead lets the film play out as an 'experience'. Even the exposition of the movie isn't clear at first. Though this lends to being entertaining it hinders the exploration of its themes. Something being intentionally difficult to understand without giving us an explanation doesn't instantly make something amazing, it can be infuriating. While I actually like the idea of figuring things out for yourself and applying your own interpretation to things, there's some cases where we need boundaries explained. This is one of those cases, in a film blending technology and the subconscious. The film's ending actually starts to go against our understanding of reality and I just took it as one of those things I'll have to accept. It actually reaches a point of absurdity that took me out of the experience. On top of this, the antagonist isn't that interesting and gives the grand finale an underwhelming amount of impact.
On the topic of visuals, a much more positive point, I rarely see animation so good that I actually find myself saying 'wow' as I'm watching it. There are so many moments full of warped transitions, literal world-bending scenes that are breathtaking. Kon loves flow between scenes. His scene transition here was at master-level. It keeps the film dynamic and does a great job of keeping you engaged. The opening credits scene in particular is one of the most memorable moments which showcase this fluidity to Kon's direction. If you're also looking for a movie that utilises repetition well then this is the one for you. It allows to see several things, such as how far our characters have overcome their psychological problems or seeing things in our dreams that makes us reflect upon reality.
Paprika is a must watch. Story-wise it may get a bit too big for its own boots but it's the perfect example of the journey sometimes being worth more than the destination.
Review by TozzyOzzy from the Internet Movie Database.