‘Paprika’ is both a study of exceptional story telling and a deeply moving tale that will change your view of dreams, the subconscious, and technology forever.
There are few topics as boundless or creatively diverse as the realm of dreams and thus it’s no surprise that such a world has served as backdrop for a countless range of iconic sci-fi stories. Interfering with our dreams is no new concept to the world of film, and yet no others broach it with the visual artistry or complex undertones as that achieved by Satoshi Kon’s ‘Paprika’. With layers of frivolity atop a darker introspection, the film is both a beacon to the reach of animation, and an unforgiving look at the dangers of the human psyche.
Set in the near future, ‘Paprika’ centers on a revolutionary new psychotherapy treatment that allows therapists to enter their patient’s dreams using a device known as the“DC Mini”. When the machines are stolen, the line between reality and fantasy is thrown into chaos as the population begins to lose control. The only person capable of restoring normality is the head of the research team, Dr Atsuko Chiba, who assumes the character of 'dream detective' Paprika in order to hunt down the perpetrators of the crime.
With the growing number of dream-based films it may be difficult to convince one that a unique tale in this field exists, and yet the storyline and scope of ‘Paprika’ is unparalleled. Far from a mere fantasy world, the film depicts the dream state as a powerful reflection of our subconscious that is at once under our control and still dangerously uncontrollable. Questions of morality, introspection, ethics, and the dangers of technology are woven skillfully throughout the plot in a manner rarely seen in film, where the science and device are not a clearly defined evil, but rather serve to hold a mirror to the darkness of our culture.
By exploring these issues through a multitude of characters, from the gentle naivety of Tokita to the sharp contrast between Atsuko and Paprika, the film refrains from pushing a single viewpoint but rather encourages the audience to adopt multiple perspectives and form their own conclusions on the issue. Even those who once held firmly pro- or anti- stances on our use of tech will find their views are shaken, if not completely overturned, by the points made throughout the film.
Though it may be an animated movie and centered on the world of dreams, ‘Paprika’ lands at many paces from the realm children’s film to fall more closely to the genre of an adult psychological thriller. The thematic interplay of subterfuge, theft, manipulation, innocence, and love are as intricate as the design of the “DC mini” itself and speak to the masterful writing of Yasutaka Tsutsui, Seishi Minakami, and Satoshi Kon.
From the initial moments to the end credits, you will not only be on the edge of your seat but questioning its existence as you become completely immersed in the non-stop intrigue and gradual blurring between imagination and reality. Every moment that suggest a clear direction quickly swings in an exhilarating turn, veering greatly from what so many films have lead us to believe is “cannon” for such topics of the mind. It is this fearlessness to set it’s own boundaries and definitions that becomes ‘Paprika’s greatest strength and quickly sets its head and shoulders above all others that may have once consider themselves peers.
However, such a uniquely crafted story would fall flat within an equally compelling soundtrack and it is here that composer Susumu Hirasawa has gone beyond even the highest expectations. In what is easily one of the most memorable scores of modern film, Hirasawa spins melodies of enchantment and unease that sweep all too seamlessly to ones of peaceful joy. The recurring theme song, ‘Parade’, is such an unsettling composition that its opening notes alone cause a reactive sense of fear, and yet its power and allure leave you unable to resist. If there is ever a soundtrack to highlight the crucial role of music to a film and its potential as an art form, it is that of ‘Paprika’.
Though ten years have passed since it was first released, the brilliance of ‘Paprika’ and its role in expanding the creative scope animation is beyond the bounds of time. Its excellence on all fronts of animation, design, writing, music, voice acting and more will leave you questioning why it is not more widely known and why so many animated features since have failed to continue on the path ‘Paprika’ forged. Whether a novice to the world of animation, or the most weathered artist, ‘Paprika’ is both a study of exceptional story telling and a deeply moving tale that will change your view of dreams, the subconscious, and technology forever.