In the 11 years since its release, Paprika, from Perfect Blue director Satoshi Kon, has garnered cult status as an ambitious sci-fi oddity. Not just that, but it’s a mind-blowing swan song for the talented director who died in 2010. In all honesty, it's one of the most fulfilling achievements in animation from the past twenty years and a Blu-Ray is well overdue.
The film takes place in a relatively near-future Japan where a revolutionary experimental device called the DC Mini allows users to interact with their dreams and the dreams of others. As a troubled detective receives illegal in-dream therapy from a mysterious figure known as Paprika, the DC Mini's untapped power threatens to envelope the entire world in a living lucid dream where reality and fantasy become indistinguishable.
Even though its Day-Glo surrealism continually inspires child-like wonder, Paprika isn't for the faint of heart. Its total dedication to the anti-structure of dreams is disorientating to say the least. As an experience it really knows how to exploit dream logic, leap-frogging boundaries with dizzying rapidity. There's a really great darker edge which creeps in as the film's multiple fantasies start cascading into each other. Abandoned alley ways illustrate the dark side of the subconscious whilst people's self-image effects their dream-appearance in confusing and disturbing ways. Time and time again the animation itself offers fresh sumptuous imagery perhaps less easily achieved in live action.
As a dream thriller about corporate sabotage, thievery, mistaken-identity, and idea construction it's hard not to notice an influence on Christopher Nolan's Inception. Whilst that film has its charms and thrills Paprika blows it out the park in approach to the fertile grounds of dreams and film theory.
Satoshi Kon has a clear passion for film which he imparts to main character Detective Toshima Konakawa, a closeted film fan whose movie love has gifted him cinematic dreams. In one sequence, Konakawa explains that his dreams are informed by his knowledge of film technique. In an early scene he cuts through scenes from old movies. Film buffs will enjoy, amongst others, an anime version of the carriage fight from Bond film From Russia with Love.
It's this sort of cinema-wariness that pushes Paprika beyond dream-caper into the realms of something about the construction of fiction itself. Call it Postmodern, call it Meta, or call it whatever. It's self-referential in a way that actually says something about cinema and highlights just how important film is to the way we see the modern world both in our minds and in real life. For many that cinematic commentary will be a playful way of granting depth, for others there's a few essays worth of critical unpacking. Either way it's a film which happily operates beyond blatant fantastical fun and achieves a level of pure cinema beyond expectations.
So yes, Paprika is a masterpiece. The animation medium lends itself so perfectly to dream capers that it's no wonder Kon's final film is regarded a perfect marriage of form and subject. Impeccable drawn, perfectly written, everyone should see Paprika and now is the perfect time.
PAPRIKA (2006) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SATOSHI KON / SCREENPLAY: SEISHI MINAKAMI, SATOSHI KON / STARRING: MEGUMI HAYASHIBARA, TÔRU FURUYA, KÔICHI YAMADERA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW