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
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