top of page
  • Writer's pictureRobin Syversen


Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Paprika might be the anime of your dreams or your worst nightmare!

Close-up of girl, lying on her bed, looking directly into the camera. Taken from the anime film Paprika (2006) by Satoshi Kon.

Director: Satoshi Kon

Cast/Voices: Megumi Hayashibara, Tôro Furuya, Kôichi Yamadera, Katsunosuke Hori

Studio: Madhouse/Sony

Year: 2006

Verdict: 6/6


Introducing Paprika Dreams

Paprika is a magnificent surreal nightmare, unlike anything you have ever seen before. It is a futuristic thought experiment in which the boundaries between dreams and reality are whisked away. It is a bizarre pop art painting turned to life in the most visually striking way imaginable.

Depending on what you are after, Paprika might be the anime of your dreams or your worst nightmare. It is the perfect film for fans of outlandish imagery, dense storytelling, and challenging plots. It might not be as palatable for the Ghibli crowds, though. If you’re looking for accessible popcorn entertainment, approach Paprika with caution.

Both nightmarish visions and fairy-tale family fun has their charm, of course. There is no sense really in comparing the two. Paprika was an international success on par with most Ghibli films. No matter your preference, it is downright impossible not to feel a tingle in your curiosity bone when the mesmerizing images start to flow.

The Anime Swansong of Satoshi Kon

Paprika was the fourth and final anime film Satoshi Kon made before passing away from pancreatic cancer in 2010. Paprika was well-received around the world. For a while, Kon was the brightest shining star in the anime sky before faith intervened and robbed the world of a true visionary.

The story in Paprika is based on the 1993 novel of the same name. It was written by Yasutaka Tsutsui, who also wrote The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Tsutsui was a big influence on Kon, which presumably led to the author getting a voice-acting cameo as a bartender in the anime.

Before Paprika, Kon had worked his way up from anime fanboy to manga artist. Thereafter, he got a job as Katsuhiro Otomo's assistant and later scriptwriter before moving on to background and layout design for anime films like Patlabor 2 (Mamoru Oshii) and Memories (1995, Otomo).

Between the years 1997 and 2004, Kon directed Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paranoia Agent (TV Series). By 2006, die-hard anime fans would already know his name well. Then came Paprika which made him an international sensation.

Kon had been planning the production of Paprika for more than a decade, and his ambitions did not go unnoticed. Paprika won several awards and has since been listed as one of the best anime films of all time by Time Magazine, Time Out, and Rotten Tomatoes. His career virtually exploded, only to implode a few years later from his tragic passing.

A woman's face is splitting in half, only to reveal another woman's face underneath. Taken from the anime film Paprika (2006) by Satoshi Kon.
Time to scrub that ol' skin. Now, where can I find a reliable skin-cleaner?

Paprika's Plots of Paranoia

Paprika's story is both a blessing and a hurdle. The number of layers and details make for a depth most anime makers dare not dream about achieving. On the other hand, it might lead to more head-scratching than enjoyment.

«All you can do is lean back and let the movie madness wash over you,

like a tidal wave brimful of jellyfish shaped like gelatinous clocks»

- JCA -

Simply put, the story is about a company that has developed a device for supervising and sharing dreams. One of these devices has a «malfunction» that lets the wearer invade anyone’s dreams. The person whose dream is entered experiences a temporary loss of sanity.

The dream-invasion device was developed as part of an experimental treatment project for psychiatric patients. The head of the research team gets so caught up in the device's potential that she starts to treat patients illegally outside of the company facilities. Her avatar/alter-ego in the various dreamworlds is named Paprika.

«Like a surreal dream turning into a total nightmare, Paprika evolves

into a monstrous scenario as epic as any Godzilla film ever made»

- JCA -

Then, all hell breaks loose when the dream invasion device is stolen. Somehow the thief is able to use it to control the dreams of Tokyo’s entire population. As the thief develops his skills, he learns to fuse the dreamworlds with reality, which in turn endangers the entire planet.

Between the Lines of Dreams and Reality

Paprika expanded the horizons of anime filmmaking with the exploration of the human psyche at its core. It questions the relationship between subconscious and conscious dreams. Likewise, it also comments on the reliance on understandable narratives in our daily lives.

It presents itself as the polar opposite of logical reasoning, yet possessing indefinite depth beneath the surface. The success of the film is proof that reason and logic are not always needed to communicate. In fact, its message might even be strengthened by forcing the mind of the spectator to expand beyond the expected.

Alex (from the excellent YouTube channel AlexEnterprises) argues that Paprika rejects reality by presenting a detective story that is set entirely within the realm of dreams. It proposes that we don’t need to be grounded in reality to tell compelling stories. It even suggests that fantasy might be a desirable factor in our lives. The detective certainly appears more content when embracing his dreams rather than rejecting them.

Kon himself said that the recurring parade, which signifies the line between dreams and reality, was inspired by Shinto and the idea that everything has a soul. Many souls, or kami, are gradually disappearing from popular consciousness. According to Kon, the importance of dreams seemed to dissipate along with these traditions of old.

Paprika Under the Skin (Ouch)

The doctor created the Paprika avatar with the intention of helping psychiatric patients. However, from her unconscious mind, Paprika becomes more of a guiding light for the doctor in the real world. Understanding her own psyche appears the biggest challenge of all.

Paprika is not just about the fantasy of dreams but the fantasies of reality. It's about the difference between who we want/imagine ourselves to be and the person that looks back at us in the mirror. We are all complex beings. Coming to terms with our various sides is not always easy or pretty.

Paprika is the yin to Dr. Atsuko's yang. She is the carefree dreamer within the controlling realist, the part of the Doctor that never surfaces in real life but always looms in the shadows of her psyche.

Removing the boundaries between dreams and reality raises questions about human desires. When dreams become reality, and reality becomes dreams, do we really welcome the changes in our lives? Or are daydreams simply a way to distance ourselves from everyday hardship?

When the detective’s dreams first invade his life, it is far from a pleasant experience. Only when he comes to terms with his inner self does his outer reality seem to fall into place. For many, dreams might be nothing more than just that… Dreams. They serve the purpose of distraction by teasing our imagination.

Paprika Parallels in Anime

Paprika probably requires a few rounds before sinking in, but its many layers are one of its core strengths. Taking this trip is like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, only to land inside one of the nightmarish dream sequences in Akira.

Looking back at both anime history and Kon’s filmography, the parallels between his work and Akira are more present than ever in Paprika. Both films are partly set within haunting nightmares. Both stories are interlaced with undertones of social commentary.

The productions of Akira and Paprika also have some interesting features in common. Both films sport some of the most mind-blowing artwork to ever be drawn by Japanese animators. And to top it off, both scores perfectly enhance the creepy nature of the topic matter.

A girl is dressed up in a victorian doll's costume. Taken from the anime film Paprika (2006) by Satoshi Kon.
Now try to look like like you just found out that someone stole your sweetroll!

Paprika Parallels Outside Anime

Whether Paprika was directly influenced by international films or not is hard to say. Its heavy reliance on surrealism brings to mind the horror imagery of Clive Barker, the bizarre storytelling of David Lynch, and the kooky antics of Terry Gilliam.

The release of Inception in 2010 caused a small uproar among bloggers and anime fans. The story in Christopher Nolan’s film was too similar to be a coincidence. From the dreams within dreams, the elevator sequence, and the hallway significance, down to details like dialogue and wardrobe. There is no denying that Inception must be influenced by Kon’s film, or was it maybe just a case of shared dreams?

Now and then, the atmosphere in Paprika seems to mirror the literature of Haruki Murakami. A perception that very well might stem from my fanboy relationship with books like The Wild Sheep Chase, Hard-boiled Wonderland… and Dance Dance Dance. That being said, the line between Paprika’s surrealism and Murakami’s magic realism is pretty thin at times.

Final Verdict for Paprika

When first diving into the universe of Satoshi Kon, it was a confusing journey indeed. Nothing made sense, and everything fascinated. Paprika was an instant classic of sorts, although its brilliance wasn’t realized until the film had been digested for the 5th time.

One thing is for sure, Paprika is a movie that never ceases to amaze. It makes you wonder what kind of mind it takes to come up with such unique imagery and twisted storytelling. The deeper you dive into the creations of Kon, the more they fuel your imagination.

«Paprika demands an open mind, but once you let it in, or rather enter

the realm of dreams, the experience is one that will never leave your system»

- JCA -

Satoshi Kon was, without a doubt, one of the most creative and inventive anime directors of all time, and his passing was an equally devastating loss to the community. His legacy will never be forgotten, and his work has already proven to stand the test of time.

Those of us who were there when Paprika first aired will forever remember. Everyone else should do themselves a favor and pick up a copy of Kon’s anime masterpiece today. The Blu-ray version has become very affordable on both sides of the Atlantic, and HD perfectly complements the fantastic imagery. Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Resources Anime News Network: Interview - Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon Wiki: Paprika

4,871 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page