Paprika – Film Review

Paprika Anime Film PosterPaprika (2006)

Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Tōru Emori

Directed by Satoshi Kon, based on the namesake novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Produced by Madhouse

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 84%

Paprika is a film that has always been lauded but never really placed in that collection of unmissable animations a la Akira, Ghost in the Shell and so forth. That’s something that makes sense once you watch it – more sense than the film itself, actually.

Set some time in the near future, a device known as the DC Mini is invented, giving psychiatrists the ability to enter their patient’s dreams remotely. However, while the small team of scientists behind the device get carried away with its potential, a prototype goes missing. With no restrictions yet created, somebody begins to cause havoc in the dreams of the people involved with its creation. Desperate to keep the new device in production, the team take it upon themselves, and a trusted detective, to find who is responsible.

Sometimes with animated series and movies, you get the sense that the story is inconsequential compared to the visual experience. Yes, Paprika is dazzling and we’ll come onto that, but this is not a film with a forgettable storyline. The criminal plot is integral to the film, driving all the characters and the feel of the movie as a whole. However, it’s a story that the film never really gets to grips with.

In fits and spurts, the Inception-esque plot can be followed, digested and enjoyed. However, for the majority of the film, it is lost behind a blaze of colours, extroverted personalities and unexplained details.

“There is such visual freedom to this movie…”

For most crime dramas, having its plot become hard to understand is a recipe for disaster. For most anime, no amount of flash visuals can save it from a poorly-told narrative. However, Paprika is not most animated films.

To say this film pops would be an understatement. There is such visual freedom to this movie, giving the impression that any scene could be turned on its head at any moment, as it so often would. A neverending dream, stitched together with all its lack of reason on display. Instead of being a crime story driven by narrative, Paprika becomes an outlandish visual experiment nailed to the screen by a few handy detectives.

In a way, it’s hard to really judge Paprika as a film in the same way you would judge others. There’s such a feeling of experimentation and liberation in this tale and the way it’s projected on the screen that makes this more of an internal experience than anything to digest and talk over with friends.

If Paprika can be compared to anything, let it be compared to Satoshi Kon’s debut feature, Perfect Blue. As with this film, Perfect Blue shows a visual transcendence between reality and illusion. Both films feature crime and their heart, but while PB twists into a dark tale of internal strife, Paprika – despite being set largely in people’s subconscious – has a much more out-of-body feel to its visuals.

That sense of distance and the seemingly harmless feel of the movie’s visuals turn Paprika into a really pleasant experience with incredible rewatch ability. That being said, the lax nature of its storytelling could be an unforgivable putoff for some. However, those that can forgive it will most certainly watch this twice – not for the story, but just to take in the wave after wave of visual excitement that Paprika provides.

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