Dreams are a mystically pure place where one can live out their fantasies without giving in to the limits of the real world. Countless individuals have tried to analyze, reenact, or even try to control their own dreams. What if you could take what’s in your head when you sleep and upload them to a computer?
Opening the doors to a realm so unparalleled could bring to life your wildest fantasies and your most terrifying nightmares. Would this be amazing? Or incredibly dangerous?
Paprika is a movie that invokes this scenario, combining fantasy dream worlds with a high tech invention that allows people a window into their dreams. Paprika stands teetering on the edge of reality, with the deep ocean that is the dream world beneath her. Let’s take a plunge into this creative and mind-bending film.
(Warning: mild SPOILERS)
The film begins with what appears to be a circus, filled with a heaping pile of obscure scenes and subliminal imaging that don’t really make sense until they are explained further on. Much like The Ring, Paprika is built on the discovery and revelation of meanings, a type of dream analyzing if you will. The main story line follows Captain Konakawa, a police detective who has an unsettling dream and ends up being pulled into a case that he may not be prepared for. Centering around a theme as many anime movies do, Paprika centers around the thought of how wonderful being able to share your dreams with your friends would be.
Kosaku Tokita, a computer whiz, invents a gadget called the DC Mini. Think of it like a camera you can plug into your head, record your dream, and upload them to a computer. Tokita’s dream, although perhaps naively brought to life, lends itself to some pretty brilliant solutions. The DC Mini could not only record dreams to view for pleasure, but could also be used to analyze dreams of psychiatric patients to better understand their conditions as dreams are considered a venting place for the unconscious mind. The DC Mini could also use people’s thoughts for energy, virtually unlocking telepathy and potentially changing the world as we’d know it.
This tool, though created with good intentions could be used for evil if brought into the wrong hands. Of course, it does fall into the wrong hands and we find ourselves drifting in and out of dreams and reality as the DC Mini is used to turn people into blabbering idiots by implanting a very ill psychiatric patient’s dream into the brains of the unsuspecting victims. The line between reality and dreams are bent and finally merge into an epic battle of the conscious and unconscious minds.
Paprika is brilliant in a sense that it brings to life the idea that dreams could literally become reality and how insane that would be. Think of Toon Town from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, times that by about a thousand and set it in Tokyo, and that would give you a good idea of what the climax of this film feels like. The story itself is very confusing at first and will probably make your head explode, but as you pick up the pieces of your shattered brain, hopefully you will see it for what it is: A work of art. That being said, viewers be wary as Paprika does have some crazy and scary scenes, some adult content, and an all around mind blowing story line. The imagery is brought to live by Madhouse Studios, responsible for the animation of all Satoshi Kon’s projects, in addition to anime favorites such as Death Note, Monster, Chobits, Record of Lodoss Wars, and Black Lagoon.
Going into this film without any previous knowledge of what it was about (like I did), you might find something familiar about this perceptually ripping piece. This can be attributed to the writer and director, the late, great Satoshi Kon. You might not have heard this name too often, and his rap sheet is pretty short if you search for him on IMDB. However, you see he wrote and directed greats like Paranoia Agent, Tokyo Godfathers, and Millenium Actress. I highly recommend any of these to viewers who enjoy deep storylines, complex characters, and beautiful animation.
Paprika also garners an all-star voice cast including Tohru Furuya (as Tokita, who also voices Yamcha in Dragon Ball Z, Amuro Ray in the Gundam Series, and Tuxedo Mask in the Sailor Moon series), Megumi Hayashibara (as Paprika, also known for voicing fantastic characters like Rei Ayanami in Neon Genesis Evangelion, Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop, Haruka in Love Hina), Akio Otsuka (as Captain Konakawa, who also voiced Blackbeard in One Piece, Wizer in Slayers, Ansem in Kingdom Hearts video game series), and many others. The English version of this film also features anime veteran Yuri Lowenthal (as Tokita, known for Sasuke in Naruto, Karl Neumann in Monster, and Keigo in Bleach), Cindy Robinson (as Paprika, voice of Kujako in Naruto, Pepper Potts in the Iron Man TV series, and Amy Rose in Sonic Boom), Paul St. Peter (as Captain Konakawa, voice of Vicious in Cowboy Bebop, Zor in Robotech, and the Nine-Tailed Fox in Naruto), and others.
If this film’s premise seems a little familiar, you would not be mistaken. Christopher Nolan has stated that he drew inspiration from Paprika for his 2010 film, Inception. Paprika was also originally a sci-fi serial novel originally published from January 1991 to June 1993 in Marie Claire magazine by Yasutaka Tsustui. The original novel was also adapted into a manga series by Reiji Hagiwara and published in 2003 by Kodansha. The film itself was then adapted into a manga series by Eri Sakai and published by Alma Books in 2009. Back in 2010, Wolfgang Petersen, a German action director, had bought the rights to make a live-action version of the movie, though news of it’s current progress is very scarce. (Source)
As far as female representation goes, Paprika has a debatable PASS with the Bechdel Test. There are two named female characters: Atsuko Chiba and Paprika, who are arguably the same person as Paprika is the “dream entity” of Chiba herself. There is a point in the film where Paprika interacts with Chiba during the climax. The PASS is dubious because of the relationship between Chiba and Paprika. If they are considered separate entities, it passes all three components; if they are considered the same person, it does not pass.
Overall, the movie is well made, memorable, and tells an interesting story. The characters are intriguing and the sci-fi elements are exciting. The visuals are stunning and the music is catchy. I would definitely recommend this film to anyone who enjoys cerebral stories, anyone who likes anime style movies, or just anyone in general who enjoys weird, interesting movies.