I really love dreams. Something that we both equally understand and don’t constantly. Something that can feel so real, and yet isn’t—a fascinating trip into one’s own consciousness that is truly theirs in every sense of the word. The surreal nature of it all can translate beautifully for a visual medium like a film such as Christopher Nolan’s Inception back in 2010. But before that film blew people’s minds, there was an animated film from 2006 that perfectly capture the beautiful absurdity that is dreaming.
Directed by the late Satoshi Kon, Paprika follows a research psychologist who uses a device that permits therapists to help patients by entering their dreams. When this technology ends up in the wrong hands, the psychologist and her colleagues must spring into action to recover it before being used for nefarious purposes.
Having seen this and Tokyo Godfathers years ago, I truly feel that we have lost a truly unique visionary. I can’t imagine any other filmmaker who could approach a premise like this in such a visually dazzling way while also capturing the randomness that our dreams are capable of perfectly. Paprika constantly finds interesting ways to seamlessly transition one from one dream to the next. For example, we follow our lead character in a dream, breaking what’s seems like an invisible window on a highway before it translates to a broken-down shack and then this grand temple. If it sounds weird and bizarre, then you would be right. But that’s the right type of weird. The weird that sells you that you are truly not something of the regular everyday world, even if we understand why.
For some, this will be too difficult to follow as the state of dreams changes all the time, more so once it starts getting interslice with reality itself. Even though the film provides quite a bit of exposition to explain what is going so that the audience can understand what is going on and why. However, this is the type of heady mind trip that makes me want to analyze this film and truly understand everything it wants to say. This is absolutely the type of film that warrants a rewatch if not for the concept alone.
But Paprika also builds itself with tons and tons of foreshadowing for character motivations, relationships, and plot points that may not seem like much at first. But since it’s done so well and just subtly enough so that the payoff feels like a real revelation once the curtain is unveiled. We learned a lot about the characters through this approach to storytelling, and it really works in regards to giving the film some emotional heft. The character writing is well-done, and the film wisely never loses sight of that amongst the crazy dream antics.
As expected of a Kon film, the animation is nothing less than spectacular. As with traditional with his films, there is so much emphasis on getting realistic movement from his characters. They’re so expressive, and it makes them feel so alive. Which works wonderfully when the film’s visual backdrop is all of these dreams they have to figure out and move through. So much of Paprika’s subtle details are told through the visuals alone, and the animation brings that to life perfectly.
If there really is anything to be said of actual criticism, it’s that this may be of those films because it’s so high-concept that I may end up engaging more from an intellectual perspective rather than an emotional one. That’s not to say the narrative isn’t compelling or lacking good character drama; it’s just the fact that I get so hyperfocused on making sure I understand why everything is happening. Other details get lost to the wayside on first viewing. But that’s honestly a small nitpick at worst and is more reflective of me than the film itself.
As stated before, this is the type of film that I feel will just get even better the more I rewatch it. Paprika is a stunning, mind-bending trip from the greatly missed Satoshi Kun that may not be for everyone with just how crazy it gets, but it is nothing short of rewarding for those willing to take themselves on the ride.