Paprika (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray Combo (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 91 minutes approx.
The third and final classic film to be rescued from the vaults and given a Blu-ray makeover from Manga Entertainment is the final film released during the lifetime of the late, great Satoshi Kon. The visionary director died aged 46 in 2010 from pancreatic cancer but the legacy of his film and TV output lives on.
Paprika is based on the bestselling 1993 sci-fi novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui which, like his previous films, Kon was given permission to alter to suit his own creative whims, keeping the basic story intact. It revolves around a radical new device used in psychotherapy called the DC Mini, which allows someone to view the dreams of another person.
With the DC Mini having yet been granted an official go ahead, Dr. Atsuko Chiba has been using them illegally in treating psychiatric patients, entering their dreams in the form of an avatar named Paprika. When a DC Mini is stolen, Chiba and the device’s inventor Dr. Kōsaku Tokita suspect it is an inside job since the existence of the DC mini has been kept secret.
If the concept of Dream Therapy sounds familiar then you are recalling the plot of Christopher Nolan’s Inception which shares a very similar central conceit, but guess what was a part inspiration for that film? Yup, Paprika, with Ellen Page’s character Ariadne apparently based on Kon’s titular heroine. In fact, it was Inception’s release that saw a proposed live action version of Paprika shelved to avoid a clash with Nolan’s work.
As to who did it better, that will be subject to opinion but it can be argued that Kon was given more creative freedom through the medium of animation that Nolan could only scrape at with his CGI fest. Both films veer off into very different paths yet it is difficult not to see direct comparisons in the corridor sequence in Inception which Nolan almost certainly lifted from here.
But it is Kon’s work that is under review here and if you have seen his other films in which the lines of reality and fiction are blurred then you will know that this finds him on familiar turf once again. With the exception of the delightful Tokyo Godfathers Kon’s goal has been to bend our minds and Paprika is perhaps the apotheosis of that aim, yet the story on this occasion is arguably the simplest one yet.
Of course, the execution is less straightforward given the dimension hopping that takes place and the dream within a dream within a dream loop that drives the bulk of the developments. When the film begins, Chiba is trying to help Detective Toshimi Konakawa who is unable to crack a murder case he is investigating due to a recurring dream confusing his mind.
When of the DC Minis goes missing, Chiba’s superior Dr. Torataro Shima suddenly goes on a bizarre rampage before leaping out of a window. Shima survives but when Chiba monitors his dream, consisting of a surreal parade of animals, toys, dolls and other esoteric ephemera where Shima is king, she and Tokita recognise a colleague disguised as a robot, giving them their first clue.
But catching him isn’t going to be easy as the working prototypes DC Minis don’t have an enforced security feature meaning anyone can leap unsolicited into another’s dream. By entering Shima’s dream as Paprika, both Chiba and her avatar become caught up in this surreal nightmare world which begins to merge with the real world, putting a further cloud over what is the truth and what is fictional distortion.
It might seem off putting to be put in the position as a viewer of not always being able to discern exactly what is going on and in true Kon fashion, Paprika is another often arcane work of immense imagination, but on this occasion this handicap is shared by the lead protagonist as Chiba finds herself trapped in one reality as Paprika and another as herself, with no obvious escape route from either.
Obviously, we have the ability to hit the stop button on our Blu-ray players if we get too confused but I wouldn’t recommend it as you’ll miss out on an absolutely exquisite visual treat. Kon was noted for his meticulously detailed storyboards that covered almost every frame of action and this has been translated to the screen with equal care and due diligence and looks stunning in HD, a medium it was born for.
Not only are the busy parade sequences a thing of beauty, with multiple figures, shapes and objects all vying for our attention against a backdrop of stunning detailed landscapes, the dream worlds are equally triumphant in exploiting the animated medium’s boundless flexibility in creating psychedelic mise-en-scenes and oneiric fantasy scenarios appear real and tangible.
Determining exactly what the message or point of this film is admittedly won’t be easy for everyone, but given the very slight Ghost In The Shell parallel of Paprika being able to “dive” into other people’s consciousness, perhaps it is another warning against humanity becoming too reliant on technology doing out thinking for us or having our online personas dictate our “real world” existence.
Even if this isn’t an accurate assumption of the film’s intent, this is a unique immersive experience which benefits from having such a sublime auteur as Satoshi Kon to act as our tour guide, regardless of whether he is one a different intellectual plane to the rest of us. This also makes his untimely and premature passing even sadder when we consider how much Kon still had to offer and the prospect of where his future ideas would take him (and us).
Rewatching Paprika over a decade after its initial release reveals it has lost none of its visual splendour, inventiveness or its ability to baffle and delight in equal measure, and I hope this Blu-ray re-issue finds a new and appreciative audience for this film and the works of Satoshi Kon.
English Language 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Japanese Language 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Tsutsui And Kon’s Paprika – Featurette
A Conversation About The “Dream” – Featurette
The Art Of Fantasy – Interview
The Dream CG World – Interview
Rating – **** ½
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