Dreams are a mystically pure place where one can live out their fantasies without giving in to the limits of the real world. Countless individuals have tried to analyze, re-enact, and even control their own dreams. What if you could take what’s in your head when you sleep and upload them to a computer? Opening the doors to a realm so unparalleled could bring to life your wildest fantasies and your most terrifying nightmares. Would this be amazing? Or incredibly dangerous? Paprika is a movie that invokes this scenario, combining fantasy dream worlds with a high tech invention that allows people a window into their dreams. Paprika stands teetering on the edge of reality, with the deep ocean that is the dream world beneath her. Let’s take a plunge into this creative and mind-bending film.
The film begins with what appears to be a circus, filled with a heaping pile of obscure scenes and subliminal imaging that don’t really make sense until further on. Much like The Ring, Paprika is built on the discovery and revelation of meanings, a type of dream analyzing, if you will. As do many anime, Paprika centers around the thought of how wonderful being able to share your dreams with your friends would be. Tokita Kohsaku, voiced by Tohru Furuya (who also voices Yamcha in Dragonball Z, Amuro Ray in the Gundam series and Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon) invents a gadget called the DC Mini. Think of it like a camera you can plug into your head, record your dreams, and upload them to a computer. Tokita’s dream, although perhaps naively brought to life, lends itself to some pretty brilliant solutions. The DC Mini could not only record dreams to view for pleasure but could also be used to analyze dreams of psychiatric patients to better understand their conditions, as dreams are a venting place for the unconscious mind. The Mini could also use people’s thoughts for energy, virtually unlocking telepathy and potentially changing the world as we know it. This tool, even with good intentions, could be used for evil if brought into the wrong hands.
Of course, it DOES fall into the wrong hands; what is a story without conflict? We find ourselves drifting in and out of dreams and reality, as the DC Mini is used to turn people into blabbering idiots by implanting a very ill psychiatric patient’s dream into the brains of unsuspecting victims. The line between reality and dreams are bent and finally merge into an epic battle of conscious and unconscious minds.
Paprika is brilliant in a sense that it brings to life the idea that dreams could literally become reality and how insane that would be. Think of Toon Town from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, multiply that by about a thousand, and set it in Tokyo. That would give you a good idea of what the climax of this film feels like. The story itself is very confusing at first and will probably make your head explode, but as you pick up the pieces of your shattered brain, hopefully you will see it for what it is: a work of art.
Going into this film without any previous knowledge of what it was about (like I did), you might find something familiar about this perceptually ripping piece. This can be attributed to writer/director Satoshi Kon. You might not have heard this name too often; his rap sheet is pretty short if you search for him on IMDB. However, if you’ve seen the last series he wrote and directed, Paranoia Agent, it might strike a chord. If it doesn’t, I highly recommend the series as another reality twisting mind-blower.
Paprika should be noted for the fantastic, near-Miyazaki quality animation, an all-star voice cast including Megumi Hayashibara (Cowboy Bebop), Akio Otsuka (One Piece), and many others. Viewers be wary, as Paprika does have some crazy and scary scenes, some adult content, and an all-around trippy storyline. I would not suggest this film to anyone under 16.
If you’ve ever thought it would be great to be able to view your dreams consciously and revisit them as much as you can refresh a YouTube video, remember what you’ve seen in Paprika and be careful what you wish for.
Whitney is a Minnesotan writer and animation enthusiast, specializing in fantasy fiction. She loves music and drawing and always has a notebook by her side for spur-of-the-moment inspirations.
Read Chris Luedtke’s Paprika review here.