Sci-Fi Anime Meets Surrealism
I only recently heard about Paprika when it appeared at No. 75 on Time Out New York's list of the 100 Greatest Animated Movies of All Time. It's tough to walk into a movie with such high expectations, and I know that colored my enjoyment of it, and left me perhaps a little more ambivalent about it than I might otherwise have been if I had come across it a different way.
The premise of this movie is amazing: A research team has created a device that can record an individual's dreams to video. The team has started secretly using the device — the DC Mini — for psychotherapy, and one of their first projects is Police Inspector Konakawa, who is investigating a murder while haunted by a recurring dream. But, like in Ghostbusters, it turns out the door swings both ways: getting dreams out of the heads of delusional, sick, or troubled people brings those dreams out into the world. This problem ramps up quickly after one of the DC Mini prototypes is stolen. Who the culprit is, what their endgame may be, and how a mysterious girl named Paprika and Konakawa's murder investigation all fit in is a mystery.
To be honest, it all remains a little bit of a mystery. The plot gets very, very confusing as each character's pursuits are developed, and as the walls between reality and surreality start crumbling. To be honest, I got a little lost as there was talk of Konakawa having actually killed himself, which made me question whether or not he was really alive, or really a cop, and where the film was trying to go. But though the plot points may be murky, the visuals are astounding, and the Japanese can really do the creepy doll nightmare thing right. The film has a great a atmosphere, with elements of cyberpunk, noir, and Surrealism filtered through an anime lens. The visual imagination of the film and director Satoshi Kon is something to behold, and the character work in the supporting characters is unique and interesting, even though the main character remains something of a cypher.
Objective Quality: 7/10
Bonuses: +1 for the "parade of everything," the recurring dream motif, +1 for just the sheer coolness of the melding of the dream world and real world
Penalties: -1 confusing me, -1 for minimizing its great setup in favor of a less-interesting crime thriller conceit
Cult Film Coefficient: 7/10
On other sites, that score would likely be higher. Check out our non-inflated scoring system here.
Posted by — Vance K. Cult film aficionado, former Surrealist, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.