Thursday, July 15, 2010

Anime review: Paprika

Paprika begins with a look into the capabilities of the DC Mini, a device that allows users to record their dreams and enter the dreams of other DC Mini users. Paprika, the dream world alter ego of Dr. Chiba Atsuko, allows detective Toshimi Konakawa to try the device out and Konakawa becomes thoroughly intrigued with her. Following the opening credits, the film shifts focus to Kosuka Tokita, creator of the DC Mini, Atsuko, and their co-worker Torataro Shima, as the three discuss the fact that one of the DC Minis has been stolen. The DC Minis have not yet been released for production and as such there is no security mechanism in place to prevent anyone to use the device whenever they wish. The chairman of the company the three work for has already caught wind of the DC Mini’s disappearance, and so the three attempt to determine the device’s last known location and work from there.

The situation quickly becomes dire as staff members associated with the various subconscious technology at the company begin having dreams while awake and putting their lives in danger, including Dr. Shima. Atsuko, Kosuka, and another lab staff member named Morio Osanai decide to pay a visit to Kei Himuro, who worked closely with Tokita on the DC Mini and has not shown up to work in a few days. After some time, the group discovers that Himuro is trapped within his own dream, and that many who attempt to wake Himuro up using the DC Mini become trapped in the dream as well.

As the film progresses, the lines between reality and the dream world become increasingly blurred. Director Satoshi Kon intentionally plays with the characters, as well as the viewer, often tricking them into thinking they are experiencing one world while they are in fact experiencing the other. There are a few major plot twists that play out over the course of the film that cause the various characters to each play an important part in either one world or the other (or in many cases, both worlds).

Each of the characters is well-rounded and receives enough focus to either merit their inclusion as a main or secondary character. The constant switching back and forth between the real world and the dream world shows quite vividly how the external and internal characters’ personas differ. Detective Konokawa is a cool and collected spirit in the real world, yet struggles with his past in the dream world. The most distinctly split personas, however, come from Atsuko (in the real world) and Paprika (in the dream world). Atsuko is an incredibly focused and by-the-books type, often giving people the impression that she is cold-hearted. Paprika, on the other hand, is a free-spirited child-at-heart who is quick on her toes and very outgoing. Considering how character-driven the film is, it's comforting to see that everyone's story comes full-circle before the concluion, leaving no loose ends.

The situational humor that is sprinkled in here and there is incredibly clever and on one notable occasion directly references Satoshi Kon’s previous works. Overall the film’s focus is rather serious and it manages to incorporate many elements that cater to the child within. This is not a particularly new formula, but it’s not often that it is executed in a fashion that doesn’t come off as overly disturbing and creepy. That said, the film is a psychological thriller to an extent and it wouldn’t be doing its job properly if it didn’t spend some time messing with viewers’ heads (which, thankfully, it does in a perfectly rationed helping).

The pacing in Paprika is perfect. Things speed up when Paprika and Konakawa are traversing the different types of dreamscapes and slow down when dealing with more suspenseful and darker points, such as Himuro's dissapearance. The finale is a bit predictable (or at least the events that lead up to it), but considering how brilliantly scripted all the preceding events are, it’s a minor hitch in an otherwise nearly flawless story.

The animation is simply stunning, stacking up near the caliber of the Studio Ghibli films and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. The use of vibrant colors and various lighting effects plays on the concept of dreams wonderfully. The character designs are nicely balanced to appear realistic enough, yet carry a cartoonish charm necessary for the film’s focus. After a while, viewers might think that they’ve seen all there is to cover in the dream world, yet Satoshi Kon keeps pushing the envelope, seemingly without even trying to, expanding on the vast array of ideas and events that encompass the dream world. The soundtrack is comprised of a very few recurring pieces and variations on these, so viewers can expect to hear similar sounds for the majority of the film. That said, the soundtrack’s complexity and variation in sound style should be commended and fits the film’s respective scenes like a glove. The English dub is surprisingly strong and there are only a few secondary characters that feel like they have some room for minor improvement. Overall, though, they’re arguably better than the original Japanese cast, with Cindy Robinson stealing the show as Paprika.

It’s not often that an anime film aimed largely at older audiences excels in every field so well. Some have even gone as far to consider Paprika much like an adult-themed Studio Ghibli film. Paprika’s ingenious story combined with the genuine sense of wonder it evokes from viewers makes it one of the best anime films, as well as one of the best psychological thrillers, I have ever seen.

My rating: 9.75 (out of 10)


  1. Now the biggest question I have yet to answer is exactly WHY this film got the R rating. Personally, I've seen more sexuality and violence in Pom Poko and Spirited Away, both films which are PG Ghiblis. Was it simply for the 3 second nudidy shots? Has American audiences really grown paranoid over boobs?

  2. There isn't much violence or vulgar language, so it probably was due to the nudity more than anything else, even though it is incredibly brief. It also could be due to some specific scenes, such as when Himuro or Torataro throw themselves out the window/off a ledge. Even so, the film could have easily justified a PG-13 rating.


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