82. PAPRIKA (2006)

“I think that within human nature, and within the human heart as well, there are a ton of absurd impulses and instincts. But you can’t express those things because society has created these rules that say that things can’t ‘warp’ like that. It’s a rule that maintains a sense of balance in the world. But when you’re restricted like that you tend to release these impulses within your dreams. Everything ‘warps.’ I think that in the past you were able to spontaneously experience such things within the framework of reality. I think religious ceremonies would be a good example of that. Now we don’t really have that. I think that if someone from prehistoric times saw Paprika they’d say, ‘That’s how it is!’ I think they’d be confused. ‘Why would you make a movie about such everyday occurrences?'”–Satoshi Kon on the Paprika DVD commentary (inspired by the scene where the balcony handrail spontaneously warps)

“I do feel regret that my weird visions and ability to draw things in minute detail will be lost, but that can’t be helped.”–from “Satoshi Kon’s Last Words

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Satoshi Kon

FEATURING: Voices of Megumi Hayashibara, Akio Ohtsuka, Tôru Furuya, Kôichi Yamadera, Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Emori

PLOT: A group of scientists invent a device called the DC-mini that allows the user to enter the dreams of those who wear it; they are experimenting with the invention on mental patients as an aid to psychotherapy.  A prototype of the machine is stolen, and the team discovers that it can be used to wreak terrible mischief when one of their number starts spouting incomprehensible babble and jumps out of a window while believing himself to be dreaming.  The situation reaches an apocalyptic peak when the thief uses the machine to absorb others’ dreams, and eventually discovers how to make dreams cross over into reality.

Still from Paprika (2006)


BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was based on a 1993 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui; at the time of this writing, the original novel has never been translated into English.
  • Tsutsui personally chose animator/director Satoshi Kon to adapt his work.
  • Kon began his career as a manga illustrator.  He died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, having completed only four highly regarded animated feature films and the television series “Paranoia Agent.”  Although he was working on a new project at the time of his death, Paprika was his final completed film.
  • Kon finished the storyboards before the script adaptation was completed, then wrote the story to fit the images rather than the other way around.
  • Voice cameos: Kon and writer Yasutaka Tsutsui speak for the two mystical bartenders who appear in Paprika’s dreamspace saloon.
  • The film’s soundtrack was the first to be created using a Vocaloid: all singing voices are computer generated.
  • A live action remake is in development with an estimated completion date of 2013.  Director Wolfgang Peterson has promised to tone down the weirdness for a mainstream audience, aiming to create something more like The Matrix than a surreal exploration of dream states.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The dream parade, which features marching refrigerators, a Dixieland frog band, porcelain dolls, the Statue of Liberty, confetti falling from nowhere, and more.  This toylike promenade tramps through the film, through forests and movie theaters and the streets of Tokyo, growing larger and larger as it absorbs more and more dreams—and it’s as intense an accumulation of imagination as you’re ever likely to behold.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Near the end of Paprika, two characters turn to each other and stare


English language trailer for Paprika

in stunned, silent disbelief.  They’ve just seen a giant naked girl grow to womanhood by inhaling an anthropomorphic smog monster.  Watching Paprika‘s nonstop cavalcade of technicolor fever dreams should fix your expression into the same mask of bewildered disbelief long before that point.

COMMENTS:  Having suddenly grown butterfly wings, Paprika finds herself pinned to a table,the prisoner of an amorous lepidopterist who runs his hand down her body towards her crotch. Suddenly his hand plunges through her jeans; he pulls his fist upward, slitting her from midriff to head.  Paprika is split in half like a cicada husk, and encased between her lifeless shell like a chrysalis lies a naked Dr. Chiba.  Fortunately, Detective Kogawa Toshimi has been watching events on a movie screen; enraged, he presses against the partition separating him from the scene of the violation.  The camera rotates to show the specimen cases lining the walls of the apartment bulging and stretching as the cop pushes his way from one dream to the next.  He bursts through and is able to gather the doctor’s nude body and carry her to safety, as her captor grows a second head and his original noggin explodes into a mass of fluttering blue butterflies.

This scene may be the height of the movie’s delirium, and it’s as good a place to enter the bizarre world of Paprika as any.  It illustrates the permeability of this hallucinatory world, where with a little effort characters can travel into and between each others’ dreams, and between dreams and reality.  It highlights the film’s transformed, dreamlike sexuality, where penetration is always symbolic and unerotic.  And it shows off artist/director Satoshi Kon’s deranged (but not quite perverted) imagination, alongside his peerless technical mastery.  There’s an incredible fluidity to the animation as we watch the detective’s half-visible body slowly appear as he strains to burst through the suddenly elastic wall, bending the butterfly cases until they burst. Paprika is full of such warping techniques, like the rippling carpet that piles up in waves behind a dreamer as he tries to run; the visuals are almost three-dimensional at times, and although they’re technically flat they are in reality far more impressive that the object-flying-at-my-eyeball gimmicks that dominate modern 3-D spectaculars.

Not only are the screen effects three-dimensional, the dream scenarios imagined here are so novel and visionary that they almost add an undiscovered new dimension to our cinemagoing experience. Even the whimsical opening credits—which make us fall in love with the spritely Paprika—are stunning in their invention. Paprika, a cute-as-a-button, flirty young action hero in a pageboy haircut, flits through the city at night, flying into commercial logos and teleporting from billboard to billboard. She skips past a security guard by appeaing as a film projection on a wall, and she almost exists more in the background, as an image on a passing truck or a reflection in a mirror, than she does in the “real” world; she’s undercover and incognito even in fantasy.

Those opening credits, skipping from one fantastical milieu to another, are scarcely less linear as the often-criticized plot. Some critics and viewers found themselves unpleasantly confused trying to follow the ins and outs of the twisty sci-fi narrative. Weirdophiles who are accustomed to surrendering to dream logic are unlikely to have the same objection, but it’s fair to say that telling a coherent story is not Kon’s primary concern in Paprika. In a nutshell, a device that lets you enter into others dreams is stolen; the scientists who devised it want to get it back. The evildoers (whose identities aren’t terribly hard to guess) begin twisting others’ dreams, then show the power to enter into dreams and eventually to break the barrier between dreaming and waking life so that the subconscious world floods over into reality. How, or even why, the latter goal is to be achieved is hardly addressed (the clearest explanation we get is the psychotronic-sounding, “the anaphylaxis of the DC Mini is expanding exponentially!”) Confusing matters further is the fact that characters are often found to be still dreaming when we assume they are awake. They can enter the dream state by clicking on a website and merging with the laptop screen. Viewers demanding straightforward narrative even in their speculative fiction find Paprika a frustrating experience; if plot is all they value, they find it an empty one. (Such viewers should turn to Inception instead, which is a lot like Paprika with the weirdness replaced by plot rigor).

The film is most thrilling in its second act, when Paprika’s search for the DC Mini thief leads her to explore various dreamscapes in the guise of Tinkerbell, a mermaid, or a griffin; she’s chased by a rolling wave of gnarled roots, or swallowed by a whale and spat out its blowhole. When its delivering fantastic visions, Paprika rides high on a crest of wonder; when it makes concessions to ordinary narrative, the film suffers. A subplot involves the resolution of one character’s neurosis; it’s well-done but a ultimately a letdown, because the spectacular nightmare carnival imagery that illustrates the problem is far more compelling than any solution could ever be. Similarly, the conventional good-vs-evil confrontation demanded by genre can’t live up to the weird, unbridled promise of what’s come before; the climax resembles the final showdown in a kaiju movie rather than the freewheeling surrealism we’ve grown accustomed to.

The plot is jumbled, but that adds to the film’s weirdness, creating the possibility of continual surprise. It may be a bit disappointing, however, to find that the film’s themes are even more confused than the narrative. Kon’s attention to minute detail is incredible. You could spend an hour studying a single still of the dream parade, picking out background characters and details that could only register as chaos when they pass before you on the screen in real time. The human characters may be simply drawn using regulation anime stylization, but the backgrounds are incredibly rich. The numerous billboards that dot Tokyo (many hand painted by Kon himself) add richness and depth to the setting; humongous, childlike genius Tokita’s apartment is filled with a confounding mess of toys and gizmos reflecting his cluttered mind; puddles and confetti are individually rendered. The imagery often cleverly reflects the action in ways that aren’t always consciously apparent (at least, not until you’ve listened to the director’s commentary). Smarter characters are lit more brightly, while duller ones stand in the shadows. While one scientist describes the process of dreams merging, we watch raindrops slide down a car windshield and form a stream. Characters have running motifs; one bad guy is associated with trees, another with butterflies. These correspondences work well on a scene by scene level, but fail to add up to a satisfying bigger picture. Just what is it that Kon wishes to say about dreams, and reality?

The villain’s motivation for stealing the dream machine is to preserve the sanctity of dreams from the poison of technology: “Science is nothing but a piece of trash before a profound dream,” they tell us, and later “the dreams are horrified that their safe refuge is destroyed by technology.” Dreams here are also explicitly associated with movies: one of the dreamers is a former filmmaker, movie theaters are visited in dreams and other dreams are watched on the big screen, dreams take the form of a Hollywood Tarzan adventure or a film noir or a romance. The movie’s final shot is a man buying a movie ticket. In Paprika, reality is threatened by a collective dream that overcomes everything before it and draws everyone into a single hallucination. Movies are often considered as collective dreams, Hollywood is called a “dream factory.” If dreams represent movies in Paprika, then the bad guys are Luddites who want to shut down the movies because they believe technology poisons dreams. But the means they use for their dream terrorism is a collective dream, something that looks very much like a description of a movie. Confused yet?

There’s also the issue of Paprika herself. The secondary protagonist, Detective Kogawa, has a complete character arc and a psychological resolution. But there remains a profound mystery—or confusion—about the main character, the scientist Atsuko. She radiates competence, but she’s tight-lipped and joyless (with her hair in a repressed bun and her loose-fitting business wear, she looks and acts a bit like a Japanese version of Lillith from the “Cheers” sitcom). It’s no spoiler to say that Paprika is her dream avatar; we learn early on that Atsuko takes on the form of the vivacious young girl when she enters others’ dreams to psychoanalyze them. It’s also notable that Paprika is unique; no other character in the story has a dream double that has a completely different look and personality. All of the other main players enter dreams, but they always appear as some recognizable variation on themselves, with their own faces, even if they have the body of a robot or a whale. Paprika is lighthearted, adventurous, and sexy where Atsuko is grim, by-the-book and cold; it’s as if the dream girl represents the older woman’s fantasy self, a Mata Hari of the Land of Nod. Paprika is an agent of the freedom and imagination of dreams, whereas Atsuko is the representative of science. The relationship between the two reflects the duality between imagination and science that appears elsewhere in the film.

In psychoanalytic theory, Paprika and Atsuko would represent two sides of the same personality that need to meld and integrate in order to become a whole person: a complete personality with the mind of a scientist and the heart of a hoyden. Yet, the two are presented as quite distinct (if related) entities. Frequently, Atsuko appears to turns into even Paprika when she’s not dreaming; even more disorientingly, they appear onscreen together at other times. Paprika appears in Atsuko’s reflection and talks to her at least three times (addressing her in the third person). Though nominally the script insists they’re the same character, their separateness is continually emphasized; until, near the climax, Paprika is not only vocally asserting her independence, but even implying that perhaps she is the primary personality and Atsuko is in some sense her “reality avatar.” The expected integration of the two halves of the split personality, which would make Atsuko whole again, never explicitly occurs in the story. The closest we come to a resolution is that Atsuko admits her feelings for another character to herself, and the fact that she briefly dreams (significant since she had stopped dreaming her own dreams since inserting herself into others). Paprika, on the other hand, vanishes at the end; whether she continues to exist as a separate entity is left up in the air.

If I were to play amateur Jungian psychologist and analyze the movie as Kon’s dream, I would conclude that Atsuko/Paprika is the character that represents the director. As an artist, he is half inspiration (Paprika, the wild visions he imagines to put onscreen) and half technique (Atsuko, the part that uses complicated technical software to bring that vision to life). If Atsuko and Paprika never merge, it’s because Kon still feels the conflict between those two sides of himself, still feels them pulling against each other. Then again, we aren’t in the Freudian era anymore: the form of dream analysis where every image is a symbol representing some psychological trauma has been abandoned to the sort of people who believe in the healing power of crystals and who have standing appointments to have their chakras aligned every Thursday. Dreams don’t contain clues that can be solved like an Agatha Christie mystery; we can’t expect our subconsciouses to supply the answers that we can’t. They simply reflect our waking fears, desires and preoccupations; the subconscious plays with these ideas, mixes them with images from our daily lives, and spits them back at us in transformed and sometimes unrecognizable shapes. Kon placed his preoccupations with art and movies and dreams themselves on the screen in the form of a dream, letting his subconscious mold the images; the result is that we see a woman whose skin is stripped off like the peel of an orange, to reveal another woman inside. The image comes from Kon’s dream, but let’s not overanalyze it; you kill a butterfly when you pin it down.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a Freudian-Jungian-Felliniesque sci-fi thriller, and an outright challenge to American viewers, who may, in the face of its whirligig complexity, feel almost pea-brained.”–David Denby, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)

“…a gorgeous riot of future-shock ideas and brightly animated imagery… if you keep your eye on the screen and don’t overworry the plot particulars, you will be rewarded with a cavalcade of charming, gently outré and beautiful hallucinations.”–Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

“…suffused with a giddy sense of the seething, mutable landscape of the mind, the place where H.P. Lovecraft’s tentacled nightmares jostle for space with folkloric frogs, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), Tarzan and explosive swarms of electric-blue butterflies. It’s a great place to visit, even if you wouldn’t want to live there.”–Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide

OFFICIAL SITE:

PAPRIKA: A FILM BY SATOSHI KON -The Sony Classics Paprika page contains the trailer, pressbook, a large gallery of stills, and more

IMDB LINK: Paprika (2006)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Paprika pressbook – Production notes and three separate plot synopses: capsule, short, and long

Paprika (2006): But What About the Rest of It? – Emily Yoshida persuasively argues that Paprika is about the movies themselves

Paprika @ Mubi.com – Collection of links, reviews, background information and relevant forum posts

Paprika @ Cinema Is Dope – Here may be found a very cool Paprika desktop wallpaper

Wolfgang Petersen’s Live-Action ‘Paprika’ Adaptation Is On ‘The Fast Track’ -The (presumably bad) news about Wolfgang Peterson’s live-action remake

Satoshi Kon’s last words – English translation of Kon’s poignant final letter to fans before dying of pancreatic cancer in 2010

DVD INFO: A movie as visually sumptuous as Paprika deserved—and received—a top notch video release.  The Sony DVD (buy) allows the viewer to watch the film either subtitled or (yuck) dubbed, and includes subtitled commentary from director Kon along with friend and composer Susumu Hirasawa (the inclusion of the composer on the commentary track means that the music gets more than its fair share of discussion).    Four featurettes round out the main attractions: a “making of” documentary; a 30 minute conversation between Kon, novelist Yasutaka Tsutsui, and voice actors Megumi Hayashibara (Paprika/Chiba) and Tôru Furuya (Tokita) in which they discuss their favorite scenes and their own dreams; and two mini-documentaries on the film’s magnificent artwork, one with Paprika‘s art director and one with the CGI effects supervisor.

The Blu-ray release (buy) (used to compose this review) obviously spotlights Paprika’s impressive, trippy visuals.  Extra features apparently not on the DVD release include dubs for four additional languages (for a total of eight), storyboard comparisons, and previews of coming attractions.

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Marrissey,” who called it “very trippy and also a good watch.”  Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

4 thoughts on “82. PAPRIKA (2006)”

  1. Great review, Rev.

    I loved this movie, and pretty much all of Satoshi Kon’s work. I was genuinely saddened to hear of his recent death. I didn’t know he died of pancreatic cancer. That is a horrible way to go.

    One note, the final music from the film is, if I recall correctly, a pastiche of disconnected notes and voices. In the commentary they note that the women who listened to it were creeped out by the music while most of the men didn’t notice. I found that an interesting aside.

  2. Wow, what a detailed review. I enjoyed reading it as I enjoyed watching Paprika, which is my favorite amongst Kon’s works. I think that it synthesizes all of the qualities from his previous animations into great oneness and goes a few steps further.

  3. I very much agree with your assessment that “Inception … is a lot like Paprika with the weirdness replaced by plot rigor”. I think that, due to the rambling nature of dreams, directors are forced to either follow an inconsistent stream-of-consciousness narrative in order to truthfully portray a dream state, or surrender surreality in favor of linear logic in order to pursue a coherent plot. I found Paprika’s themes rather convoluted because of the former, and found Inception’s dreamscapes restricted to the mundane as a result of the latter.

  4. I too love Satoshi Kon’s work and I was genuinely saddened when he died recently. I like to think he’s somewhere fantastic, in all senses of the word, having a drink and a chat with Angela Carter.
    When my lad described Inception to me a few weeks back, my initial thought was “blimey, that sounds like Paprika”. I’m watching Inception for the first time tonight and though I try not to go into films with too many preconceptions I have a feeling that it won’t be half as much sheer fun. The “dream parade” is one of my favourite movie sequences, with an absolutely blinding tune that makes me smile inside every time I see it. To be honest I’ve no idea what exactly is going on in Parika half the time, but damn it’s wonderful, magical, crazy, scary, sexy, mindboggling FUN. And a terrific score. Thanks for the review.

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