I first saw Paprika last summer when a good friend of mine strongly recommended the works of Satoshi Kon to me and after gazing at the anime titles he made, Paprika grabbed my eyes the quickest given its trippy imagery and description, so I bought it on Amazon and am extremely glad to have seen it because it's one of the most enriching and creative titles I've ever seen in the medium.
In the near future, a huge advance in psychotherapy is created in the form of a device called the DC Mini, which is capable of recording people's dreams. However, the DC Mini is stolen and Dr. Chiba's science team and detective Konakawa join forces to get it back before it falls into the wrong hands. In their pursuit, follows one of the craziest mind trips ever put on celluloid.
What's a movie without good characters? Thankfully, Satoshi Kon kept this in mind and fleshed out very believable and interesting characters when creating this animated feast for the eyes and brain. What I also like is that while there's protagonists and antagonists in Paprika, they don't really fit any stereotypes and aren't one-sided morally speaking. Atsuko Chiba (At-Chan, as Kosaku Tokita calls her) has the alter ego in the form of a red-headed and energetic lady named Paprika but unlike most alter egos, Paprika exists entirely in the dream universe. Chiba tends to be serious and butts heads with Tokita. Detective Konakawa is one of the most interesting to me since he has repressed terrors and lives them out through dreams that play out like movies. Tokita is a more unique case since he's a kid trapped in a genius adult's body and given that personality, he acts just like that since all he cares about doing is "doing what he wants" instead of doing what he HAS to do. Even the more minor characters are better than mere plot devices because just like the leads, they feel very believable.
PLOTTING AND APPEARANCE
Normally in my reviews, I separate the plotting and appearance, but in Paprika's case, I have to combine the two since they're dependent of each other and would be awkward reviewing the two individually. This is where most of the fun in Paprika lies in. Kon, being the excellent storyteller that he is, perfectly meshes the dream world with reality and unlike Christopher Nolan's vision of the dream world for Inception, Kon takes full advantage of the opportunities he has and creates a dream world where anything, and I mean ANYTHING, can happen (visually and plot-wise). The plotting is brilliant as to where it's complex but not overly so, in the sense that the plotting isn't a gimmicky puzzle movie where it's a convoluted mess that you're trying to put together (though it's best to pay attention), but rather blending both fantasy and reality within a character's dilemma and ultimately fits what they're going through as a consequence of the DC Mini's severe abuse. An example of this is when Konakawa is pursuing one of the main antagonists, he gets caught in his recurring nightmare and acts out according to the nightmare, and the consequences from his actions affect the antagonists in the real world. There's so much more to this, but I think you get the picture (and that I don't want to spoil the whole movie).
Then there's the appearance of the movie. This is integral to the film since it's the imagery that breathes so much life into the dreamworld in Paprika. Kon took full advantage of this opportunity in the visual department and made a dreamworld like no other. In this dreamworld, toys, household appliances, and other devices coming to life and say complete gibberish. There's a scene where Paprika jumps into Dr. Shima's dream, she sinks into Shima's body and causes him to inflate like a giant balloon and explodes, causing him to wake up. When people dive into peoples' dreams, they can take the form of any object they merge with. The best example of this would be with Paprika since she takes a myriad of forms ranging from fairies to griffins in the film. Things get really interesting towards the end when reality and the dreamworld merge since you see businessmen gleefully jumping off a building in formation and Tokita running around as a toy robot firing missiles at a giant Japanese porcelain doll and rambling about fat content in coconut milk. In my first viewing of Paprika, I was left lying in a fetal position wondering what just happened mostly because of the dazzling imagery used to flesh out peoples' dreams.
The animation and artwork is fantastic. The frame rate is rather smooth and the imagery is very colorful and detailed. Like Shigurui: Death Frenzy, Paprika is another anime that uses both 2D animation and 3D animation and much like said anime series, Paprika mixes the two in a very tasteful manner since the 3D imagery exists only to supplement the primary 2D animation instead of overpowering it. The characters have very distinctive looks and me being a male in his early 20's, especially enjoyed the way Dr. Chiba was drawn since she looks beautiful but at the same time, her looks actually match her personality since she looks mature (and acts as such). In the case of female characters, Kon has a very distinctive way of drawing them and I personally love how he draws them since they look like anime characters but don't really fit the cookie-cutter styles abused in the genre. Once again, Satoshi Kon and Madhouse Studio crank out a high-quality anime.
To supplement the well-done characters, surreal imagery, creative story, and excellent plotting, Kon threw in some themes to make an already brilliant anime even better. While subtle, there's themes about the sacredness of one's dreams and the intrusion of technology in said area elaborated by the Chairman (the main antagonist). I felt this was pretty insightful since according to the Chairman, a person's dreams in the movie's current setting are all that's left that's "personal" to someone, and the DC Mini will violate that sense of uniqueness since it'll record the subconscious and have it shared with the whole world. There's also a theme of someone dealing with hard guilt since Konakawa has a film-like recurring nightmare because of personal losses he had in the past relating to film. These themes add more life to an already vibrant animated picture.
If you love anime that's intelligent, creative, has great characters, and chocked full of mind-blowing imagery, then Paprika needs to be in your collection RIGHT NOW if it's not. If you have the technology, I suggest you get the blu-ray version since the sharper picture and sound really enhances this great movie.
RIP Satoshi Kon. Your body of animated work may be small, but it'll be remembered and lauded for eternity.