Watching film at its weirdest never gets old. You can never prepare yourself for, say, Eraserhead, or any other movie that dares to shake the senses. Paprika has just the strangeness for the job, a work of trippy, experimental art that could only come from Mr. Perfect Blue himself, the great Satoshi Kon.
The DC Mini is a machine like no other. It bestows upon its user the power to walk into and observe another’s dreams. But the device is still incomplete, which spells trouble when it turns up stolen. Soon, its thief begins to entwine the dreams of its creators with the nightmares of disturbed patients. As usual, there’s but one person qualified to crack the case, and that’s Dr. Atsuko Chiba (voice of Megumi Hayashibara), who, as her alter ego Paprika, must stop at nothing to stop the dream thief from further damaging her pet project.
If you don’t have the tongue for the odd stuff, then Paprika won’t sit right in your stomach. The film involves a constant melding of worlds, a theme that Kon has carried on throughout his work. This is a story that requires a perpetual suspension of disbelief; realists taking the grounded approach here will fast find themselves in anime hell. Paprika isn’t really a fantasy story but trades in vivid paranoia and imagination. It’s a flexing of the mental muscle, no matter which realm it happens to inhabit.
If anything, Paprika does fall flat when it comes to characters. Paprika herself, Dr. Chiba’s carefree dream world self, has all the charm of Amelie without the shyness. Chiba, on the other hand, is a stereotypical workaholic hell bent on getting the DC Mini back by any means. Co-workers range from the wise old guy to the childish fat genius, while Detective Toshimi’s job title tells you just about everything you need to know about him. These personalities are all pleasant to watch, but in a way, it has too many to feature and not enough screen time. Still, the villain is pretty cool; Kon is a master of faceless villainy, and Paprika’s antagonist was a treat to watch in action (a la Perfect Blue).
Image is everything in Paprika. Even if you end up hating the film, there’s nothing about its blending of scenery and characters that won’t stick with you. The porcelain dolls in particular were a perfect fit for Kon’s vision of a nightmarishly beautiful dreamscape. A lot of warm colors were used in production, and their overall effect is completely dazzling.
If the experimental is your bag (or if you’re brushing up on your Kon), Paprika is not to be passed up. Hardened realists had best sit this one out, as keeping our minds wide open is the film’s very purpose. Its imagery is as haunting as it is delightful, a spectacle of dreams worthy of picking up where Eraserhead left off.
Check out the trailer for Paprika here.
Read guest critic Whitney Mill’s Paprika review here.