Paprika

Paprika

Paprika anime movie cover art
Paprika

Movie Overview

Paprika (パプリカ) is the fourth and final movie Satoshi Kon completed before his death in 2010. The movie released in 2006. Of Kon’s 4 movies, this is my second favorite after Perfect Blue. It goes back to a lot of the themes I liked from Perfect Blue, which I felt the other two movies lacked.

But, what’s Paprika about? Unfortunately, it’s not a movie about cooking with spices. It’s actually about technology that lets doctors interact with the dreams of patients. In an ideal world, it could help to determine sources of stress and even fix mental disorders.

Of course, the world isn’t ideal, so things go wrong. Someone steals this dream-intruding technology and uses it to manipulate dreams. This has a few dangerous consequences.

People can become trapped in their own dreams. They can lose the ability to distinguish between dreams and reality. And they can begin dreaming even while awake.

Paprika waking up Torataro Shima from the anime movie Paprika
Paprika waking up Torataro Shima

I know that the 2010 movie Inception has a lot of similarities to Paprika. It seems likely that Paprika was a major source of inspiration for that movie. But, there are a lot of people who have discussed that connection before. So, I’m just going to leave it at that.

Instead, let’s briefly get into one of the best aspects of the movie: The way the plot goes through cycles. Have you ever had a recurring dream? Of course you have. Well, Paprika uses the concept of recurring dreams to progress the plot in a pretty neat way.

There are a few times in the movie when we find ourselves within a dream we’ve seen before. But, each time this happens, we get a bit closer to the truth behind the dream. I like this style of storytelling, and Paprika nails it.

The Best Characters

In my review of Tokyo Godfathers, I said my favorite Kon characters were either from that or Paprika. After thinking about it some more, the characters in Paprika are better. And a big reason for why that is is how the movie uses the characters. (Spoilers incoming.)

Let’s start by looking at Atsuko Chiba and Paprika. Paprika is an alternate personality of Atsuko who manifests within the dream world. But, it’s not as if Atsuko simply becomes Paprika in her dreams. Paprika and Atsuko are always coexisting. Even when Atsuko is awake, she can communicate with Paprika.

These are two distinct characters with their own personalities. But, they’re also still the same person. This is why I liked their dynamic so much. It’s like if the two main characters in a buddy cop movie were also the same person. Atsuko is the serious one, Paprika is the fun one, and they work together to solve dream mysteries.

Paprika and Toshimi Konakawa from the anime movie Paprika
Paprika and Toshimi Konakawa

Toshimi Konakawa is easily the best character in the movie. He’s a cop who’s struggling with workplace stress and seeks help from Paprika. A large part of the movie takes place within Konakawa’s dreams. And this is where the whole recurring dreams sequence comes into play.

Every time we go into Konakawa’s dream (nightmare) we learn a bit more about who he is. His character arc also parallels that of Gin from Tokyo Godfathers. Both start out at their lowest points and end up being action movie heroes. Though, I think Konakawa’s journey is far more interesting.

The final character I want to mention is Kosaku Tokita. My favorite part about him is how his size was used. He’s a massive guy. But, the framing of a lot of shots emphasizes his size in entertaining ways.

Back to Twisting Reality

Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers were missing something. They didn’t twist reality like Perfect Blue did. Millennium Actress still blended fantasy and reality. But it was always clear which was which. And the fantasy was more of a way to tell the story than a part of the plot.

In Paprika, twisting reality is the plot. The farther we get into the movie, the more reality and dreams blend together. And by the climax of the movie, there’s nothing separating the two. This, combined with the characters, is why I liked Paprika so much.

But, it’s not a perfect movie. The one thing holding it back is the identity of the antagonists. For most of the movie, we don’t know who the antagonists are. Then, toward the end, it’s suddenly revealed that we’ve already seen them. The antagonists are actually two of the random supporting characters.

Torataro Shima in a dream from the anime movie Paprika
Torataro Shima in a dream

Because of how long it took to reveal the antagonists, I thought the twist would be a lot more interesting. It wasn’t some meta twist. And there wasn’t really any lead-up to the reveal either. My only thought was, “Oh, that random guy whose name I don’t remember is the bad guy?”

It’s also at this point that the plot of the movie took a turn for the worse. Yes, there were action sequences earlier in the movie. But, they always had something to do with a specific character’s arc. The end of the movie is a big action sequence for the sake of it.

Our heroes have to fight against a giant monster that the main antagonist turned into. Why did he turn into a giant monster? Because he hates dreams or something, I don’t know. The plot kind of went out the window in favor of action.

Conclusion

Paprika is a 9/10. If the ending was better, it could have been a 10. But, despite how much I liked earlier parts of the movie, I can’t give it a perfect score. And while I rated it the same as Perfect Blue, I still think I like Perfect Blue more.

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