Sony // 2006 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // November 27th, 2007
...where reality and dreams collide in a kaleidoscopic mindscape of sheer visual genius.
While animation never gives us a true sense of reality, it can accomplish some things that live action film can't even get close to -- at least not without a monstrous budget. Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers) has always been fascinated with animation's flexibility, and uses Paprika to tell a story that flows from dream to reality with ease. It's an exciting blast of imagination, and transcends the anime industry's usual expectations.
In an attempt to reach the next stage of psychotherapy research, a team has developed a machine that allows researchers to enter the dreams of patients. Acting as interactive guides, the doctors can then help the dreamers understand where those dreams come from. Someone has stolen one of the devices, though, and it has started to infect the network. New dream patients are now being trapped in an unending amalgamation of dreams. It's now up to the researchers and a mysterious dream-helper named Paprika to shut down the system -- before the wild world of dreams starts to take over our world.
While the plot description makes Paprika sound remarkably silly, the experience of watching it is anything but. It's often exciting, usually fascinating, always beautiful, and occasionally bewildering. Thankfully, though, the screenwriters have used enough Freudian theory to make the story resonate for an adult audience. Much like Lynch and Cronenberg, we can never be certain where we are and what we're seeing, and the film can only truly make sense when we accept that we are trapped between the two worlds. This is important, though, because of the nature of dreams in the first place. Dreams exist in a strange place between reality and fiction: they belong to us, but we can't fully control them. We are unable to separate ourselves from our dreams, because they exist completely inside our minds. There's a reason that all cultures in history have been fascinated by dreams, and it's something that we can share completely in a film from another culture.
In one sense, it would be fascinating to get a chance to explore someone else's dreams. It would allow us access to that person's mind at its most exposed and vulnerable. To be able to create a world of dreams that could actually be experienced is much more exciting. Of course, if that could no longer be controlled, it would become one of the most frightening experiences possible. Kon realizes this, and he makes the dreams appealing at first, before they begin their descent into madness and chaos. He also uses film typography to help us understand this world of dreams -- the characters cast themselves as movie heroes, and these clichés are the ones that fill our own imaginations and dreams as well.
Kon's animation style hasn't changed much since Perfect Blue, but it's obvious that he's working with a much bigger budget these days. The characters in Paprika look fantastic, highly stylized but never according to the rules of familiar anime. The backdrops are colorful and lush, as various sequences bleed into others. In the dream world, pictures, mirrors and windows are all opportunities to leap into another dimension. Each one of these areas has a distinct look and feel, but holds together well as a single artistic creation. I can't recommend Kon's work highly enough, even to people who normally have no interest in anime. He is creating some of the most brilliant fantasy in the world on film, and I'm not even sure he'd want these films to be thought of as part of the anime industry. He is continually working to press the boundaries of animated storytelling, and Paprika represents the next step on that journey. He realizes that animation allows him absolute freedom to play with reality, and the results are a joy to experience.
Thankfully, Sony has also helped to make Paprika an enjoyable experience. This is one of the best looking animation discs I've seen, and I can't imagine it was an easy transfer to create. The color palette is a wild explosion of variety, and there are many sequences with almost nonstop movement. On most anime discs, that spells disaster in the form of interlacing, color bleeding and compression artifacts, but this is strictly reference quality. I imagine it will look even better on a high definition format, but this is still great for those of us who haven't taken the plunge. The Dolby 5.1 track is also excellent, featuring clear dialogue, well-mixed music and a wildly immersing ambient mix.
There are quite a few special features as well, including a commentary track and a surprisingly in-depth featurette featuring author Yasutaka Tsutsui and director Satoshi Kon. There's an interview with Kon, Tsutsui and two of the voice actors as well, in which they discuss their favorite sequences of the film. The disc wraps up with a couple of featurettes about the CGI and special effects in the film. It's a surprisingly complete look at the production of the film, and well worth spending time on.
I warmly recommend Paprika to all serious film fans. It's a challenging and brilliant production, landing nimbly between grand entertainment and thought-producing science fiction. It explores as plausible a dream world as any I have ever seen, and delivers it in a beautiful and thoughtful way. Satoshi Kon is a master storyteller and filmmaker, working in a medium that few directors dare to take seriously.
Not guilty. Paprika is welcome in my dreams anytime.
Review content copyright © 2007 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, NULL)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French, NULL)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese, NULL)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish, NULL)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Filmmaker Commentary
* Production Featurette
* CGI Featurette
* Art Featurette
* Official Site