Updated: May 9, 2020
Paprika might be the anime of your dreams or your worst nightmare!
Director: Satoshi Kon
Cast/Voices: Megumi Hayashibara, Tôro Furuya, Kôichi Yamadera, Katsunosuke Hori
Related films: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers
Paprika is a magnificent surreal nightmare unlike anything you have ever seen before. It is a futuristic thought experiment in which the boundaries between dream 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 this with caution.
Both nightmarish visions and fairy-tale family fun has its charm of course. There is really no sense in comparing the two. Nonetheless, Paprika was an international success on a par with most Ghibli films. No matter your preference it is downright impossible to not feel a tingle in your curiosity bone as the mesmerizing images start to flow.
When first watching Paprika, the story is both a blessing and a hurdle. The amount 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. First time around it is recommended to lean back and just let the movie madness wash over you like a tidal wave brimful of jellyfish in the shape of gelatinous clocks.
Simply put, the story is about a company who 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 temporal loss of sanity.
The dream invasion device is stolen by a thief who uses 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. What started as a surreal dream, evolves into a monster scenario akin to Godzilla wreaking havoc in the streets of Tokyo.
Between the lines
Paprika expanded the horizons of anime filmmaking with exploration of the human psyche at its core. It questions the relation between subconscious and conscious dreams. Likewise, it also comments on the reliance of understandable narratives in our daily lives.
It presents itself as the polar opposite of logical reason, yet possessing indefinite depth beneath the surface. The success of the film is proof that reason and logic is not always needed to communicate. In fact, the message might even be strengthened by forcing the mind of the spectator to expand beyond the expected.
For a longer in-depth analysis, check out this awesome YouTube review by AlexEnterprises
Alex 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.
On a more personal level the removing of boundaries between dreams and reality raises questions about human desires. When dreams become reality and reality become 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. Not until he comes to terms with his inner self does his outer reality seem to fall into place. For most people dreams are perhaps nothing more than just that… Dreams. They serve the purpose of distraction, by teasing our imagination.
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. They both sport some of the most mind-blowing artwork to ever be drawn by Japanese animators. And to top it off, both scores perfectly enhances the creepy nature of the topic matter.
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.
Every 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.
When first stepping into the universe of Satoshi Kon, it was a confusing journey indeed. Nothing made sense, and everything fascinated. It was an instant classic of sorts, although the magnitude of its brilliance wasn’t realized until the film had been digested for the 5th time around. It 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 creation of Kon, the more it fuels 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.
More than a decade has passed since Paprika was released. Four years thereafter Kon passed away, and his films seem to slowly fade away from memory with him. This is a shame, since he made some of the most groundbreaking animes to come out of Japan this side of the millennium.
Those of us who was there when the films first aired will forever remember. Everyone else should do themselves a favor and pick up a copy of Paprika today. The Blu-ray version is dirt cheap on both sides of the Atlantic, and HD perfectly compliments the fantastic imagery.