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Paprika (2006)

If someone invented a machine that let you enter the dream of another person and record it what would you use it for? The man-child genius Tokita does just that at the Foundation for Psychiatric Research. Here his prototype tool, the DC-Mini, is used by Paprika to treat the mental illness of select patients as it goes through its testing phase. What could happen if this invention were stolen? What would happen to our private unconscious dreams? Thankfully Paprika is on hand to keep our dreaming life safe. 

Paprika started life as a novel written by Yasutaka Tsutsui that was originally published in 1993. Satoshi Kon finally brought his version of Paprika to the screen in 2006 after initially trying to get the movie up and running in 1998. Sadly this was to be Kon's last work as he passed away in 2010.

The film opens in with a pretty traditional set-up. Detective Toshimi Konakawa is at a circus with his partner looking for a criminal. Konakawa is suddenly spirited to a cage in the centre of the ring and then charged by the crowd who all have his face! Falling through the cage floor he finds himself in a hotel corridor where he sees a body fall sickeningly slowly after a shot is heard. He chases after his suspect as the floor distorts, bends, weaves and is literally taken from under him. Konakawa wakes up to see his therapist Paprika who reassures him as she removes an alien looking device from him, the DC-Mini. She tells him it is this device that allows people to "open the door to our dreams".

After a stunning title sequence that shows Paprika stopping traffic, riding on a rocket and taking on the form of almost everything she sees in posters and signs, we crash into the real world. Arriving at work Dr Atsuko Chiba finds her colleague Kosaku Tokita stuck in the lift. He's been trying to find her as someone has stolen the prototype DC-Mini. Reporting this to their superior Torataro Shima they then have to tell the chairman of the Foundation for Psychiatric Research. Chairman Inui is a cold distant figure who seems to take issue with science being able to access the private space that are our dreams.

Without warning, Shima starts babbling and speaking nonsense. He runs out of an upper-floor window and whilst in hospital they use the DC-Mini to see what he is dreaming. Shima is dreaming of a lively procession with dancing frog, dolls and shrines. He is the guest of honour as he waves to all the onlookers. But this is not his dream, it has been implanted in his mind. In the real-world the scientists need to find out what the cause of this is and how to stop this. Is it possible it could spread? Atsuko will need Konakawa, Tokita and Paprika if they are to get to the bottom of this.

For a fantastical production about dreams, Paprika feels like it has a slow start. Much of the first act in the real world is setting up what is to follow. As such it comes across as more "talky" and less "dreamy". For me, Paprika benefits from this gentle introduction. The events and ensuing action are clearly and logically set up. The following adventures then have a grounding within the plot and provide a wonderful contrast to what we have just seen. The opening act is predominantly in offices, flats, run-down parks or cars where the colour just has the edge taken off it. Acts two and three are bright, gaudy, uncontrolled and in no way limited by the laws of physics.

This is why that controlled opening act is so important. If it had been all dream-like it could have got quite sickly and the dream sequences would have lost their impact. Act one hints of what is to follow and when it comes it does not disappoint. We have talking clouds, people jumping through televisions and emerging through television cameras. Paprika is one minute a mermaid being chased by a giant whale and the next a Tinkerbell-like fairy. We have homages to well known scenes from film and even a lesson on film. The dream world has no rules and it is almost as difficult to describe what you have seen as it is to describe your own dream to someone else. At no point do these transitions feel forced you are just carried along with it much like the dreamers in the parade. It certainly captures that dreamlike quality we're all familiar with.

The idea and visualisation of dreams or dreams within dreams brings the Christopher Nolan film Inception to mind. As with Inception, you are not always sure where you are and even now I'm not sure what was a dream and what was reality. I had the same feeling when I finished Perfect Blue and I really like that slight ambiguity or uncertainty over what was "real" at the end. It gives me a reason to go back and watch it again to see something new and there is much to see in Paprika!

For this film to work, the character design has to be solid and the animation has to be fluid. Paprika really delivers. Madhouse have done an excellent job and you can see where the budget is spent on the screen. The procession of frogs playing instruments as part of the dream is full of movement and energy. When this is overlaid with the rest of the procession it is a marvel as to how it was done ... and also how coherent it is. If the procession is a wave then the frogs (and other characters within it) are smaller waves and what we see is a superposition of all of this. It is a marvel to behold. Within the dream sequences there is always something to see wherever you look in the frame and it will reward multiple viewings.

The characters designed by Masashi Ando have a different feel to those in Kon's other films. The lines are finer, cleaner and crisp with a more modern sensibility. You look at them now and you could imagine the film was produced very recently. The designs of Paprika and Atsuko fit with their roles within the film. Atsuko is the cold controlled scientist - nothing is out of place in how she moves or expresses herself. She wastes no effort and it is as if she takes the most optimum path to her goal. Paprika, on the other hand, is free. She has fiery red hair that blows in the wind as she skips. Her movements are ... animated. She laughs and takes pleasure in her role within dreams. You can see her joy in the synth-pop infused opening as she careens through the city. She lives every moment of her life always pushing boundaries. Even before they speak or the story unfolds you get a sense of who these characters are. The same is true for all of the other characters we meet within the film but it is more subtle than in the other work of Kon. Here we do not have the villainous-looking characters of works like Perfect Blue or Paranoia Agent.

I have enjoyed all of the Satoshi Kon's films and his series Paranoia Agent. Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress and Paranoia Agent all contain the idea of dreams or memories interacting with the real-world. Paprika just takes it up a notch. (Tokyo Godfathers plays more like a straight "traditional" story than the others.) All of his works feel like moving art pieces and as such everyone will get something different from them. For me I found that Paprika had a very hopeful and positive ending.

Paprika is a joyous heady mix of colour, fantasy and rule-bending physics - all the things you would expect from dreams. The animation is seamless as Paprika dashes and skips between dreams showing how free she is within this world but also the perils that may await her. The recreation of classic film scenes is bound to raise a smile from the audience and feels very much at home in this film. All of the characters well rounded and have many believable qualities - we have all worked with people like we see and spend time with in this feature. Paprika is a high-quality production with great design work in both their reality and dreams. Some of the themes and ideas present in Kon's other work re-appear here, parallels with Paranoia Agent are inevitable, and this can make it a little trickier to get into than some of his other works. That said the slightly slow first act picks up the new audience and then takes them on a journey they will never forget and will likely want more. This is a minor niggle in what is a visually appealing film which ends on a wonderfully positive note.

FROM Manga Entertainment
15 [UK]
1hr 30m [Movie]

For people who are interested in learning more about the work of Satoshi Kon the "Satoshi Kon The Illusionist", which was written by Andrew Osmond and published in 2009, is a great read if you can find a copy.

IN A NUTSHELL: Like a good dream, the final film of Satoshi Kon is heady mix of colour, shape and creativity, leaving you feeling refreshed and recharged.