Understanding is overrated. Incomprehensibility is the new clarity, and contradictions are the new consistency. Confused? Good, so am I.
Some stories can only be enjoyed through understanding, while others must be enjoyed through experiencing. Paprika, for one, firmly falls in the second category. Comprehending Paprika on an intellectual level is comparable to nailing Jell-O to a wall: the harder a person tries, the more hopelessly confused he’ll become.
Those familiar with Satoshi Kon’s other works (particularly Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress) should already be well acquainted with this visceral style of storytelling. Put simply, Kon’s trademark style has always been to set up his film with an interesting, easily understandable premise. From there, however, his films transcend into delightfully illogical chaos. One can try to shoe-horn isolated scenes from his films into a linear, understandable narrative, but the result only serves to sidestep the director’s true intentions. Paprika is no exception to this; near the end, the movie’s literal events become as intellectually inscrutable as a Teletubbies episode.
That is not to say that Paprika’s story is meaningless or brainless. On the contrary, it’s a wickedly funny, incisively intelligent, and thoroughly absorbing work. Paprika’s central focus is the tenuous border between dreams and reality, which is certainly not new in anime (or any other medium, for that matter). However, the sheer brilliance of the film’s execution prevents the show from ever drifting into clichéd territory. There is something exhilarating about the way the film slowly weaves reality and illusion together to eventually form a cohesive, turbulent whole.
In the end, I think a lot of people make the mistake of trying to analyze Kon’s work on a literal scene by scene basis rather than looking for general themes that the director is going for. In this case, Paprika really seems to be about humanity’s constant battle between its conscious and subconscious thoughts. Most of us like to think that we are consciously in control of our decisions, but in fact, our id plays a much larger role in our decisions than most of us would care to admit. To do this, Kon created a plot that plays like a dream itself. Objectivity battles with subjectivity, consciousness battles with the id, and illusion battles with reality. The result is fantastically engaging.
The animation serves as a key component to the storyline. Much of the film revolves around the dream world, and Paprika’s visuals beautifully flesh the characters’ dreams out in a way that only an animated film could do justice. The importance of the animation further deepens later on as the border between reality and hallucination becomes less and less indistinct. In the movie’s own way, Paprika is able to show this gradual merging (and the subsequent chaos) vividly.
There are only so many synonyms for “brilliant,” but Paprika’s animation deserves them all. In creating stunning visuals to drive the story, Kon is indisputably a master of his craft. The visuals are a captivating mix of subversive humor, nightmarish insanity and unprecedented wonder; this will almost certainly be the best animation of 2007.
Susumu Hirasawa has been an impressive composer for some time, but for Paprika’s soundtrack, he surpasses pretty much anything he’s produced up until now. Both “The Girl in Byakkoya” and “Parade,” the two major musical themes to the film, are fantastic electronic tracks, and have become some of my favorite anime songs of all time.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough to the soundtrack. For one, I would have liked to see more variety in the music. Almost every song in the movie is only a slightly different take on the aforementioned themes, and even one more completely different song would have helped the show out considerably. Also, the soundtrack just isn’t used enough. Kon purposefully restricts Hirasawa’s music to only the most frenetic scenes, and uses silence for a large majority of the film. While this helps make some of the scenes stand out more, other parts feel dry by comparison. Even some subtle ambient tracks would have helped tremendously. Still, what’s there is amazing, and fits the show perfectly.
Voice acting is competent, although nothing particularly stands out.
Most of the time in experimental films like Paprika, the characters are too weird and underdeveloped to ever be a particularly strong part of the show. For the most part, Paprika follows this rule. However, the film perhaps fares a bit better than most due to a couple of characters that actually have some meat to them.
The first is Dr. Atsuko Chiba and her dream alter-ego, Paprika. In real life Atsuko is cold, unfriendly and stiff, a sharp contrast to Paprika’s bubbly, warm-hearted persona. This creates a fair bit of intrigue. Is Paprika merely a repressed part of Atsuko’s subconscious, or are they actually two different personalities? The interesting questions this brings up (particularly, how much of our personality is dictated by society) help make up for a lack of actual development.
The second is detective Keiichi Ikari, the only character to be legitimately developed over the course of the show. His arc, which involves a fear of cinema, is a nice diversion from the concentrated madness of the rest of the movie (unlike the main narrative, the sideplot has a clear beginning and end). While his character isn’t particularly likeable or unique, he helps add some depth to an otherwise shallow cast.
I am a rather non-typical anime watcher. I don't strive to watch every romance or harem anime that exists, nor do I enjoy generic shounen fighting series. Intellectual and thought-provoking science fiction and fantasy are my favorites, above all else. Thus, when I saw that another title from the legendary Satoshi Kon was soon to be released in theaters, I was elated. The man who created such gems as Paranoia Agent, Tokyo Godfathers and Perfect Blue was sure to produce another masterpiece, right?
Alas; watching Kon's newest movie Paprika can be summed up in two words: completely disappointing.
Like Ghost in the Shell: Innocence before it, Paprika promises a lot, and delivers little. The "story" (if you can call it that) follows a team of scientists who have created a device capable of allowing the wearer to enter others' dreams. Mysterious accidents and illness are befalling members of the staff due to a dream terrorist, who is injecting a nightmare of epic proportions into people's minds - involving ghoulish parade of dolls, kitchen appliances, drumming frogs, and more! The talented Paprika and her team must discover the source of the dream tampering before more people, including themselves, are damaged beyond repair.
The story sounds interesting, right? Unfortunately, the little semblance of a plot which presents itself in the beginning of the movie is soon torn up and smashed to pieces by the ending. At around the mid-way point, events become so confusing and jumbled up that it's hard to tell what's going on. By the end, your brain is pretty much on auto-pilot, waiting for the credits to roll; and consequently, you are left with a feeling of "huh?" having no idea what events just transpired.
Don't get me wrong - I love a good confusing anime; Cat Soup, Paranoia Agent, End of the World, Eternal Family and other classics are some of my favorite anime of all time. Where Paprika fails is its choice to move from having a plot, to no plot. It felt like the creators stopped at some point and said "hey, let's just mash everything together and throw as much bizarre imagery in as possible, that'll entertain people! Screw the story!" At this point you might be thinking, "But I don't mind an anime with a poor storyline!" - and that's fine. The problem is, Paprika doesn't start out that way, thus tricking you into thinking you'll eventually receive, I don't know... AN ACTUAL CONCLUSION? An explanation of what the hell just happened? Even a cryptic final message would have been fine; Paprika delivered none of these.
Ultimately, Paprika's story ended up as disappointing for me as Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. At least GITS: Innocence had a consistently bad story from start to finish, as opposed to Paprika which followed through with the old bait-and-switch routine.
There's no doubt that Paprika is masterfully animated. Like Tokyo Godfathers before it, Paprika presents us with a rich world filled with detail and beauty. Often, the imagery looked so real that I felt like I was watching a live-action movie. The dream world's design is stunning, from the background designs to the characters and beyond. Paprika's character morphs from one archetype to the next, simply by moving amongst the items in the dream world. For example, she turns into a griffon by jumping into a painting, then a mermaid by jumping into the sea; all the while, the ghoulish parade marches forward and the creepy dolls gape with a blank stare. One scene in particular stuck out as representative of the mastery of the animation: Paprika winds in and out of an apartment, into a drain which leads to a sewer, and finally out of a hole in the ceiling of the sewer --only to see that she just emerged from a hollow shell of a body, deep in the heart of the forest. Though I won't spoil what that scene meant, it was very symbolic of events happening in the story.
Outside of the dream realm, the surroundings and character designs are still good (and more realistic than most), but not nearly as engaging as the visuals of the dream world.
Paprika's soundtrack is undoubtedly similar to Paranoia Agent, with a big-band feel combined with heavy synths and odd-sounding voices. The out-of-control feeling you get when listening to these songs fits perfectly with the scenes that they accompany, which usually involve Paprika diving into the dream world. Yet again, as Ghost in the Shell: Innocence proved, sometimes having good animation and audio can make an anime worth watching; Paprika is no different.
Paprika has a varied cast of characters who are very hard to keep track of. Though the initial team of scientists are easy to recognize, once the rampant "are we in a dream world or in reality?" cliché kicks in, it's hard to tell who is who or what is going on in the first place. One of the main villains, for example, is unknown to me. In addition, the relationship between Paprika and a certain team member is somewhat unanswered and unsatisfying, and the cop character seemed to come out of nowhere and remained an enigma. Like the "story", Paprika's characters seemed to be a random mixture that were thrown in to try to further some sort of mood or character development, and ultimately fail, greatly.
By the end, I could care less about who is who or why the hell the villain/s acted the way they did (which is lucky for me, as there's no way it was understandable), and thus, this section gets a failing score.
Paprika (2006) - Satoshi Kon, Madhouse
I read a review of Paprika that described it as a movie that’s meant to be experienced more than understood. I completely agree. The experience is sort of like walking through a Dali museum eating a bag of questionable mushrooms and discussing philosophy with your delightful if a bit senile old neighbor who likes to string together stories about donkey basketball and cancer with little transition. That being said, I liked the movie.
Set in a not-too-distant future, the story centers on a group of psychiatric researchers in the middle of developing a device called the DC Mini. The DC Mini can insert doctors into patients’ dreams, a revolution in psychiatry and counseling. However, when the device falls into the wrong hands, dreams start to take over people's consciousnesses and all hell breaks loose. Soon the whole world (or at least Japan) falls into jeopardy as one cumulative honker of a dream begins to envelope all planes of existence, the lines between dream and reality are obliterated, and the wtf-ometer goes through the roof. The typical world-saving duties fall onto the shoulders of Dr. Atsuka Chiba and her charismatic alter-ego. Needless to say, their adventure is quite the wild ride.
If you try to think too much about this movie you’ll only make your head hurt, so just sit back and judge it by the impressions it gives you. Enjoy the beyond-fantastic artwork and the all-encompassing dreamlike quality. The bottom line is that this movie will probably never make sense, no matter how many dead symbology horses you decide to beat, and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. This movie isn’t about greater philosophical puzzles, in my opinion. It’s like a dream--something to be swept away in and enjoy in all its colorful, fantastic, incomprehensible glory. Like I’ve said before, it’s a movie to be experienced.
Now, I also have to admit that Paprika isn’t my favorite movie. While I enjoyed it and thought the visuals were spectacular, I’m more a fan of Character-Driven Action anime* than Surrealistic Zen-Experience anime. What Paprika lacked was good characters. There were ok characters and those ok characters developed a bit, but I felt they were all ultimately swallowed by the movie’s plot. This isn’t an inherently bad thing--in anime like Monster the plot’s awesomeness manages to pick up the slack--but for some reason I really would have liked to feel closer to the characters in Paprika and I think that’s what kept it at a “good” level rather than a “spectacular masterpiece of fantastic-ocity” level for me.
Regardless, I would still recommend it just because it‘s gorgeous.
*giant robots a bonus
Paprika is actually the only thing Satoshi Kon has directed that is adapted from another medium, but in true Kon fashion he makes it no less his then any of his works. The story, adapted from the novel of the same name, is essentially just a vehicle for a bizarre vision of Kon's, inspired by the music of Susumu Hirasawa (who, unsurprisingly, wrote the soundtrack for Paprika), to create a bizarre audiovisual experience akin to that of Yellow Submarine.
Of course, Paprika is far from a feature length music video, which is hardly surprising given its origins as a novel. The plot revolves around a device called the DC Mini, a device made by the eccentric, morbidly obese scientist Kosaku Tokita, that allows people to experience each other's dreams. However, the device is stolen, and starts being used to implant dreams in fully conscious people, causing them to go crazy. In effect, it's subconscious terrorism.
The characters in this film are of a surprisingly high quality. It's not often that a single film can make a particularly memorable character, but this is a feat that Paprika manages for every member of its cast. Every one of them is memorable and well fleshed-out, and no one character takes a back seat just for the sake of the lead getting focus. The main character, Atsuko Chiba, is an uptight, stoic businesswoman, but in her subconscious dreams she takes on an alter-ego, the titular Paprika, who is essentially the complete opposite of Chiba... quirky, vibrant, and fun-loving. Toshimi Konokawa is a detective who is an early patient of the DC Mini, who asks for Paprika's help in dealing with his nightmares of a murder case. Kosaku Tokita is the aforementioned morbidly obese scientist, a man with a childlike disposition that causes him to not think through the possible repercussions of his scientific advances. The wheelchair-bound chairman (I'm not sure if this pun was intentional or not) is a stern man who believes that dreams are sacred, and that science has taken a step too far.
One thing about this that's very much worth noting are the comparisons to recent blockbuster film Inception, and the claims that Inception ripped off Paprika. While there are some serious similarities that can be quite hard to chalk up to coincidence, most noticeably in the premise itself, and in a more specific instance the way certain characters are handled as well as a motif used to portray them (see the elevator scene in both films), neither film really comes off as worse for it. This is mostly because while the movies share similar themes, both go about it in completely different ways. While Inception runs with an airtight, professional system of rules and techniques that focus on the ways the dreams are hacked, and the ideas behind the titular technique of Inception, Paprika goes for a more surrealist, stream-of-consciousness style, blurring the lines between dreams and reality much like in previous Kon works like Paranoia Agent. As a result, while the argument that Inception ripped off Paprika does hold a fair amount of water, both films are still fantastic in their own right.
Going back to the subject of Susuma Hirasawa for a minute, his music is an absolutely perfect fit for Paprika, as it has been in previous Kon works. He's been compared to Danny Elfman in contrast to Kon's Tim Burton, in that the two of them, when working together, manage to create a bizarre marriage of music and animation, as seen in Paranoia Agent and Millennium Actress as well. Paprika, however, is probably the ultimate example, and is sadly the last, not counting the possibility of Hirasawa working on Kon's posthumous project The Dream Machine.
As for the other technical aspects, Madhouse deliver once again with the art. It's in the same style as Paranoia Agent, Millennium Actress and so on, and is produced to a high standard of fluid animation. The directing is unsurprisingly superb, blurring the lines of reality excellently, and creating fantastic, gleeful dreamscapes of derangedly cheerful imagery. The voice acting in the original Japanese is superb, bringing together numerous cast members of Evangelion again, and featuring a fantastic performance from Megumi Hayashibara as Chiba, and her alter-ego. The dub, while far from bad, doesn't really scale up. Cindy Robinson puts in a great performance as Paprika, but really can't cut it as her conscious counterpart Chiba. The rest of the cast, for the most part, seem very miscast. In fact, some of the performances in the dub are actually very good. In particular, Yuri Lowenthal's take on Tokita is absolutely dead-on. He captures many of the childlike nuances of his speech perfectly... and yet, his voice itself simply feels unfit to the role.
Overall, while mostly fantastic, Paprika does have a serious flaw. In its surrealism, it loses track of the plot. Whilst the plot is mostly strong, it can become more disorienting than simply bizarre, and especially towards the ending it loses track of what was happening in the plot. It seems quite strange that this would be the case, considering the source material... which may be worth checking out, if only to explain what happened in the ending. Even after numerous viewings, I honestly couldn't explain exactly what happened no matter how hard I tried.
Nonetheless, Paprika is something that absolutely has to be experienced because there is honestly nothing else quite like it. It's one of those rare anime that I would honestly recommend even to people who aren't anime fans. It's less in the vein of anime and more in the vein of surrealist films, but using animation in the perfect way to bring out the bizarre visions behind it.
Final Words: Whilst not quite perfect, it's an absolute sight to behold. An absolute must-see.
English Dub: 6/10
An old art teacher of mine once tried to define the sublime; in essence, the sublime is something said to be simultaneously shocking, horrifying, and awe-inspiring. Like a surrealist painting or a Dadaist sculpture, Paprika is a film of the sublime. Words fail to describe the visual splendor and terror of the film’s journey into the subconscious mind. Nothing is quite as frightening one’s dreams—a place where tell-tale signs of repressed memories and fragile psyches emerge. While examining the nature of our dreams, the film’s entity is a dream in itself—an event to be experienced, rather than understood.
In the near future, a team of scientists develop a new type of psychotherapy called “dream therapy”. Dr. Atsuka Chiba, co-developer of a device known as the “DC Mini”, utilizes the guise of her alter ego Paprika to infiltrate the dreams of psychologically disturbed patients. By an expected twist, three DC Mini prototypes are stolen, leading to a full scale war on “subconscious terrorism”.
Despite its engaging premise, Paprika falls mid-flight in its execution of the plot. Caught in a web of its own reverie, the film loses coherence as its travels down a pipe dream of its own construction. Although it succeeds in whisking the viewer away to an abstract landscape, several plot points are left unexplained. For example, what was the (rather predictable) villain’s true intent in engulfing reality with a nightmarish cast? What were the ghostlike premonitions supposed to represent? And how exactly did Paprika split from her alter ego Dr. Chiba? Several questions raised at the beginning of the film remained unanswered. The ending was quite rushed and random tidbits of information are thrown haphazardly at the same moment. By the time the synth-induced credit roll appeared, I was left in a state of stunned confusion. Perhaps this was the intended reaction towards the sublime beauty of Paprika—I don’t believe I’ll ever really know.
In terms of visuals, Paprika is nothing short of pure artistry. Every screenshot moves like a living painting and each scene is seared into the brain. Whimsical, and bizarre, Paprika is a feast for the eyes with its parade frenzy of drumming frogs, eerie dolls, and marching appliances. As the line between reality and fantasy is blurred, Paprika becomes a virtual bridge between the two polar worlds. These transition sequences are seamless and beautiful, altogether creating an imaginative flow of symbols and metaphors. For example, in one scene in which Paprika is captured by her villain, she is literally pinned down to a table like a butterfly specimen in an etymologists’ office (a recurring motif). Such imagery indicates a character’s state of mind and intensifies each passing scene. In short, the animation quality of Paprika is its greatest asset, and is by far the most aesthetically beautiful film of all Satoshi Kon's works (Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent).
Composed entirely by Susumu Hirasawa, Paprika’s soundtrack consists of synthesized hyper-ballads, Vietnamese chanting, and electronic techno beats. In other words, it is the perfect soundscape for the hallucinogenic imagery offered in Paprika. Every electronic powered track is spell-binding and creates excellent pacing that drives the animation sequences along with full force. Notably, the film is unique in that it utilizes Vocaloid samples for its soundtrack, creating a mechanical yet organically exotic feel to the tracks. The only downside is simply that the soundtrack lacks diversity. In fact, the same unintelligible line of gibberish is repeated throughout several tracks, creating some repetition.
Sadly, most of Paprika’s colorful cast is lacking in character development and depth. The main villain, although painfully obvious, had no bona fide motive for his malicious actions and scarcely had any progression. Similarly, side characters were extraneous and unnecessary, especially detective Konakawa whose actions served no purpose other than to move the plot along. Although the shy, plump scientist Dr. Tokita played a larger role in the film, his character lacked some much needed development. As a result, most of Paprika’s cardboard cutout characters served as devices to force feed the plot rather than draw us into the beautiful world it created.
There is a glimpse of depth within Paprika herself, and her second self Chiba is just as interesting. The contrast between the charming Paprika and the icy Dr. Chiba is the most alluring aspect of her complex character. Despite this appeal, the film frankly doesn’t explore it enough. Chiba’s multiple personality disorder is too perfect of an opportunity to neglect, and her own psychological struggles should have been a pillar of the film’s plot.
Watching Paprika is a visually engrossing and bizarre trip down the rabbit hole, but don’t expect too much of a cohesive narrative. Understandably, a film about the irrational nature of our dreams doesn't have much room for a logical plot or developed characters. In the end, some will love Paprika for its wildly unique aesthetic and some will simply see it as visual eye-candy with high-budget production values. Personally, I feel that any piece of film or anime is incomplete without a solid story or interesting characters. However, I must admit that Paprika is a memorable and sublime experience, despite its flaws. If you wish to be transported to a beautiful, visceral dream world and are prepared to suspend your disbelief--by all means, dive into the delirium of Paprika.