A headfirst dive into this dream-within-a-dream anime, which promises a trippy dose of surreal visuals and unsettling themes.
Dir. Satoshi Kon
2006 | Japan | Animation/Drama/Fantasy | 90 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese & English
NC16 (passed clean) for violent and sexual images
Cast: Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori
Plot: When a machine that allows therapists to enter their patients’ dreams is stolen, all hell breaks loose. Only a young female therapist, Paprika, can stop it.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
Source: Sony Pictures Releasing
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: The Projector
First Published: 22 Aug 2017
Satoshi Kon passed away unexpectedly in 2010 to cancer. He was only 46. It still hurts today and his death remains to be one of the medium’s greatest losses.
Paprika, his final completed feature, was only his fourth, after wowing anime fans with the trio of Perfect Blue (1997), Millennium Actress (2001) and Tokyo Godfathers (2003).
Often drawing similarities with the later Inception (2010), which indirectly led more to embrace Kon’s work, Paprika centers on a dream-within-a-dream narrative that wastes no time in getting viewers sucked into its strange, hallucinatory world. It is a headfirst dive… with no parachutes.
Technological advancement has allowed a machine to be created where therapists could enter their patients’ dreams. It is a secretly guarded invention, but all hell breaks loose when it is stolen.
Paprika, the flamed-hair avatar of a woman who is privy to the technology, could be the only one to save the day.
Kon’s film works as a straightforward piece about trying to contain an escalating problem and solving it—pretty much the narrative flow of every action-thriller.
“Don’t you think dreams and the internet are similar? They’re both areas where the repressed conscious mind vents.”
But any sign of conventionality is thrown out of the window with Kon opting to weave a labyrinth of complication by approaching his material with the same sense of mystery and phantasmagoria that his characters—and us—experience.
Animated with boundless creativity, and with visual references to not just Kon’s past works and modern consumer culture, but also cinema as a mirror to our dreams—and repressed fantasies—Paprika is a trippy dose of unsettling themes, of which most center on Man’s desire for sexual gratification, omnipresent power, and anarchy.
So it is refreshing to see how Paprika takes control of her experience (as much as she could afford to) in order to influence the grand narrative.
There’s enough tension to suggest that things might not work out, but while the journey is fraught with uncertainties, including how the film could possibly end, Kon’s assured sleigh-of-hand means that it never falters enroute to a brilliant epilogue.
Backed by a techno-pop score and edited with a frenetic pace, Paprika is a full-blown assault of the senses. But perhaps its greatest inspiration is in showing that animation as a medium has no limits.
In fact, it gives us a sense that Satoshi Kon’s vision far exceeds the conceptual premise—and promise—that his film could reasonably contain. Which is why it is such a pity that his purported next film, Dreaming Machine, would never see the light of day.