It starts with a circus. A clown car drives into view and announces the greatest show. Nothing strange appears to be here, this could easily be a circus that we would be attending with our younger brother, or on a family trip from someone’s childhood memory. A converging point between children and adults, both seeking to be entertained by daring acts, bright colors, and humorous Three Stooges type comedy. Slowly things begin to turn sinister as Detective Kogawa Toshimi (Akio Ôtsuka) is shown to be looking for a criminal of some sort. With a sudden change a spotlight appears on him and he is transported into a cage right in the middle of the circus ring. By this point I’d realized that Paprika was a film that would be playing with my sense of reality, bringing me into settings that are overtaken by the surreal, often times within reality itself.
While adults view the show for a brief stunt away from reality, the children are there for the pure enjoyment of the spectacle. It’s the meeting point between the acceptance of absurdity in dreams and the skepticism that adult’s approach dreams with. This battle is reflected later in the film with the confrontation between the film’s villain and Dr. Chiba Atsuko (Megumi Hayashibara) as they discuss the parameters and dynamics of dream investigation, and it’s effect on the purpose of dreams.
Dreams provide the answers to the questions we didn’t know we were asking. In Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, a sensual and surreal look at the nature of dreams and how they interact in correspondence with reality. While watching the film I was explicitly drawn to how absurd and strange the settings were, and how they seemed to flow together, rather than have strict dimensional lines. Somewhere between the colorful innocence of a children’s picture book and the dark motivations of corporate ambitions lies the masterful anime Paprika. Kon’s 2006 tale of dream investigation is at its simplest a police crime procedural and at its most complex a Philip K. Dick-style science fiction tale. Paprika delves into the furthest reaches of the mind where humans are the most vulnerable. Satoshi Kon translates the unintelligible nature of dreams in a way that induces receptivity to the ideas behind the film’s reality and its relationship with dreams.
Paprika dives head first into analyzing how people interact with their dreams as something to decipher when the ridiculousness of dreams is meant to be left at bay, more of as a mild reflection on one’s troubles and hopes. Alternatively, as something to be seen as an internal monolog for guidance rather than something to be torn apart in the analytical terms of real life. Kon brings another science fiction opinion piece into his already mind-bending filmography that includes such revered animated films as Perfect Blue (1997), Millennium Actress (2001), and Tokyo Godfathers (2003). Paprika fits tightly into the canon of culturally significant and prolific anime films, such as Akira, or Spirited Away. Paprika additionally has a huge cultural influence in cinema, with Christopher Nolan’s Inception owing many of its plot points and techniques to the animated feature. The movie pushes the limits of what modern animation can accomplish, taking it from the realm of children’s stories to mature audience oriented films with sinister plot lines, disturbing ideals, and questionable morals.
Kon’s anime accomplishes bringing together the surrealistic quality of dreams and reality by deliberately blurring the lines between what is dream and what is real. Paprika (Dr. Chiba’s pixie-cut donning dream-persona) frequently infiltrates the real world rather than just existing in dreams. The DC Mini being stolen acts as the main object that pulls the narrative forward, allowing the world to shift uncontrollably between dreams and reality, merging the two with often terrifying and gruesome results such as suicides through hallucinations. Even Dr. Chiba is affected at one point where she believes herself to be hopping a fence, only to have the scene ripped from in front of her like a sheet to reveal that she is actually about to leap over the banister of a high rise apartment deck. The dangers of tampering with the purely personal world of dreams has drastic effects on the city and people around them, as their dreams slowly become collective rather than personal narratives.
In one particular scene the strangeness and fluidity of dreams is explored in a flawless romp through various dreamscapes. After Dr. Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara) confronts the unexpected culprit of the crimes being committed, the viewer gets taken on a surreal chase scene which demonstrates Kon’s masterful balance between mind boggling, David Lynch-esque surreality and modern action in an animated format. The scene shifts fluidly by throwing it’s own setting and power dynamics into question in instantaneous moments like: Paprika jumping into a painting, then diving into an oceans cape within said painting. Paprika matches action perfectly, without there being a single doubt that any of Paprika’s actions had happened, none of her actions are confusing as she’s always where she’s supposed to be in the frame. This is due to the wondrous work of the film’s editor: Takeshi Seyama.
Paprika’s intention is to bring critical attention to humanity’s relationship with the realm of dreams in respect to the world they live in, and it completely succeeds in this ambition. Dreams as a way of interpreting troubles in life, what this discusses is the idea that delving too deep into one’s dreams affects one’s reality. The idea being that dreams are a private reflection period rather than something to be poked apart by trained physicians, especially when they are not naturally part of the dreamer’s mind, or lives.
I was utterly unprepared for the spectacle of Paprika. It’s bright color palette and beautiful imagery solidify the movie as one of the greatest animated films in recent memory. By dealing with mature ideas and bringing an adult film to the anime format. While watching it, I was blown away by it’s cultural relevancy, as it clearly inspired the blockbuster film Inception. It is an utterly gorgeous film to look at with a touching narrative and creating a lush and gorgeous film that is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.