~ film : analysis and review ~
Paprika (パプリカ) is a 2006 Japanese science-fiction psychological thriller anime film co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon, based on Yastuaka's 1993 novel of the same name. It is Kon's fourth and final feature film before his death in 2010. The film stars the voices of Megumi Hayashibara, Tōru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori, Tōru Furuya, Akio Ōtsuka, Kōichi Yamadera, and Hideyuki Tanaka. Kon and Seishi Minakami wrote the script, and Japanese animation studio Madhouse animated and produced the film alongside Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan. The score was composed by Susumu Hirasawa. The film has a running time of 90 minutes and received high praise from critics worldwide.
At an ambiguous time in the near future, the development of a new tech device, the "DC Mini", provides access to the previously hidden world of people's dreams. Under the chief of the department Doctor Toratarō Shima, Kosaku Tokita tirelessly developed this technology, which Atsuko Chiba uses to treat psychiatric patients outside the research facility as her assumed alter-ego "Paprika". Due to the prototypical nature of the DC Mini, it lacks the security to prevent anyone with one to enter any other person's dream, which is problematic for our team when they learn one has been stolen. Enlisting the help of one of Atsuko's patients, Officer Konakawa, they search through the real and dream worlds to find the so-called mental terrorist.
When one tries to verbalize what makes a film good upon completion, they often experience extreme difficulty utilizing a limited vocabulary to sing the praises of a deep, symbolic, intellectually stimulating, visually-stunning work of art. I left Paprika with this feeling. The feeling that I had experienced and partially understood something great, but was initially incapable of speaking about what made this was the case. Thus, the analysis (and inadvertent review) you find yourself reading right now.
One likely large contributer to my inadequacy to proclaim Paprika as great, was the fact that I did not incredibly enjoy it. The overall aesthetic is not particularly satisfying to me and though extremely impressive, the vibrant exaggerated animation is not my style. It is apparent to anyone that it is something notable, but that something just isn't up my alley. However, my enjoyment has no bearing on the quality of work of art, and I will take on the challenge of appraising something I believe to be great, despite my inability to enjoy it as such.
Paprika is the pinnacle of Satoshi Kon's work, exemplifying his often twisted and mature, yet vibrant and flamboyant portrayals of life. Though his work can be seen to appear quite fantastical, they often directly discuss the relatable and realistic problems of humankind, and Paprika is no exception. Its beautifully crafted themes and messages are expressed throughout an engaging action-packed mystery, often leaving a viewer disoriented and befuddled by the developments of the story, which only serves to more accurately present the contents of the film. Paprika is such an outstanding film that it can be easily appreciated by those who find no attraction to the aesthetic and surface level contents (e.g. me), which really shows the mastery of Kon's magnum opus.
"...the internet and dreams are similar. They are both areas where the repressed conscious mind vents."
As this is Kon's final film, and a self-proclaimed return to form, it may be seen as quite peculiar that this is only my second experience with a Satoshi Kon work. I do not particularly like venturing outside the direct contents of or any piece of media when attempting to experience it, however I do think it is important to acknowledge the genuine relevance of his personal life and the nature of the original story in relation to this film adaptation.
When Kon tackled an adaptation of Tsutsui's novel Paprika, he had many difficult challenges to overcome. Most prominently, expressing the disorienting descriptions of dreams visually. Not only did Madhouse's beautiful, bright, and active realization of his vision do this quite well, but he used the change in medium to his advantage in a few other key ways. The most notable change from the original, was the addition of the character Officer Konakawa. This change is what makes Paprika so personal to Kon. Konakawa was initially an aspiring film director, who eventually renounced his dream in pursuit of a "real career", being a policeman. This decision gives him much remorse, as seen through his dreams of popular films that torment him endlessly through his nights. Throughout the film he confronts these nightmares, ultimately discovering that the killer of his love for cinema was him all along. Despite his projection onto forces outside of his control, he betrayed his own dream.
Paprika explores dreams both in the literal and figurative sense. Without getting into the film's key theme, Konakwa represents to Kon what he could have been if he had abandoned his dream. In the same way that Konakawa has regrets in not pursuing what he loved, everyone feels regrets about decisions they didn't make. The inability to realize dreams is a common sentiment and is often a burden to many, but Kon explores it in a very personal way through his own inserted character. This is wonderfully incorporated at the end of Paprika, when Konakawa looks fondly at the cinema, containing posters that display the other completed Kon films. Despite any realizations he may have made to better himself, he cannot escape the burden of his abandoned dream, where it ultimately manifests near the conclusion of the film, but we will get back to that later. This fully exemplifies the necessity of understanding Kon and his other works in receiving the full experience of this film. He did not include typical "easter eggs" to gawk at, but he interwove a hand-crafted, personal narrative across each of the films he made, resulting in a newfound depth to the character of Konakawa. Kon finishes this development by saying something both to the audience and to himself:
"It's truth that came from fiction. Always remember that."
- Konakawa's other self
When discussing Paprika, one can't go a moment without hearing about this film's stunning visuals, and beautiful as they may be, there would not be much to talk about had the film's visual exploration been nothing but surface level. Luckily, this is not the case, as Paprika is lined to the brim with meaning and message in each scene, packing a heavy punch in themes and symbolism, and that isn't to undercut the visually experimental nature of the film, every scene is meticulously crafted and often radiating energy and animated expressions. It would be entirely reasonable for a viewer to only visually experience this film and still enjoy themselves.
The most blatantly successful use of visual theming is seen through the exploration of dreams. They are an amalgamation of wild fantasy elements, real life events, and meaningless noise that captures the chaotic and confusing nature of dreaming, while maintaining the intense pace and pressure of the narrative. This leaves the viewer often confused trying to parse together the deeper representations of the events, separating the meaningful from the meaningless. This effectively puts them in the shoes of our characters: Konakawa and his attempts to catch the killer of/in his dreams, Atsuko and her inability to understand and comprehend Paprika, and the chairman and his warped motives and desires. Watching the characters struggle to comprehend their situations gives the viewer a strong sense of relatability, allowing one to more easily see the meaning in their eventual resolutions.
While the dreams require thoughtful interpretation of the way Kon yanks you from dream to dream, they serve more to comment on the mind state of each of the individuals. This provides a commentary on both the value of aspirations and the often naive folly of dreams. A great example early in the film is Konakawa's recurring nightmare that he initially seeks treatment for. His dream serves as a representation of the human subconscious. While the dream is clearly familiar to him, shown by his comprehension of and investment in the action, his inability to understand the actual events of the dream directly correlates to how people deceive their own conscious minds. In the same way that we lie to ourselves to overcome our own guilt, Konakawa's dream hides the reality of his actions from himself. His conscious mind is convincing him that he does not know the cause of his unrest, and it leads him to believe that his quest is a noble one: an officer bringing a violent criminal to justice. This is in blatant contrast to the reality of the situation, to which only his subconscious was aware; becoming a wonderful visualization of self-deception.
Another example is the parade marching towards paradise, first seen in Shima's dream. The parade features a joyous band providing a drunken feeling of happiness on their journey to a better place. While this imagery is already quite clear, Shima shows the literal effects of such a thought process and provides to happily throw himself out a window. While this dream was not necessarily his own, the parade represents one's desires to escape from the traditional nature of their life. People want to lavishly travel somewhere greater than where they are, in a merry march to "Paradise", but their inability to do so locks this desire forever away in the world of their dreams.
One of the most well-depicted themes in Paprika is the presentation of the two-sided nature of nearly everything. Dreams and reality, Atsuko and Paprika, subconscious and conscious, the list goes on... however it almost explicitly refrains from a direct good and evil comparison. Instead, the film decides to show a good vs. bad commentary through the way each character resolves their struggle. However, this point fits into the final theme the best, so just hold onto that. Though the most obvious representation of duality is Atsuko and Paprika, I do not want to overlook it on virtue of it being surface-level accessible. Atsuko is a pale-skinned woman with neat black hair always present in formal attire with a strong sense of determination and willingness to forcefully establish justice. On the other hand, Paprika is a slightly-darker skinned woman with red, curly hair and is seen in a casual outfit, always expressing a more playful, energetic personality. While the visual distinctions serve mostly to separate the two, the apparent personality traits are also presented visually to establish them as individuals before you see them interact. One question should immediately come to mind on first seeing Paprika and Atsuko together: "Who or what exactly is Paprika?"
What exactly Paprika is is (Dear English, "is is" is not something I want in a sentence, and now '"is is" is' is even more upsetting... but I did not want to change the phrasing because I liked this joke. Yours Truly,) not directly explained in the entire film. Instead, they rely on her indirect characterization to define her. Paprika is everything Atsuko is not. She is adventurous, energetic, flirtatious, and most critically: true to herself. When other character's refer to Paprika as a separate entity from Atsuko, further exemplified by Paprika acting on her own accord, it solidifies the notion that the two are as different as two individuals. Knowing that Paprika is only a part of Atsuko's true self allows one to draw comparisons to our own personalities. Often our expressed-selves alienate parts of our true self so far that we immensely struggle to come to terms with who we are. Atsuko eventually finds comfort when she is reunited with Paprika, but we do not arrive there without taking risks. One's mind is often more fractured than they imagine, and reconciling it might be more important than they know.
Next up on the duality chopping block is Osani and the chairman. Osani tells himself and professes his desire to protect dreams from being controlled by science, but Paprika immediately calls him out on his being controlled by jealously. The duality of Osani is his inability to connect his tools for obtaining power and his reasons for wanting power in a way that are honest to himself. As such he relies on the chairman, who also has a warped disconnect between his dreams and reality. The chairman and Osani act as one entity with opposing sides. Both require the other but their desires directly clash with each other, thus resulting in their skirmish and eventually Osani's death. This both shows the damage of un-reconciled dreams towards oneself but also the inherit greed within many. The film blatantly antagonizes that behavior, showing a grotesque and gruesome depiction of such desires, thoroughly delivering the point.
Paprika's character is shown right from the get-go to be a true representation of Atsuko's emotions. In the opening theme, specifically in the diner scene, Paprika shows her range of emotions when being hit on at a restaurant. Though she wears a mask of happiness, her true emotions display in the reflection (mostly disgust). This sets the viewer up to be looking past the masks our characters wear and instead towards the selves they hide away. Atsuko is the prime example in separating her mask from herself, as part of her is so dislodged from herself she cannot even control it. Atsuko begins to realize something true about herself when nearly forced to abandon Tokita and she returns to profess her care for him to try and save him. Instead he consumes her, declaring that it could use a bit of spice, maybe Paprika. While quite on the nose this is exactly the point, once Atsuko comes to truly understand that she has a love for Tokita, the part of herself that she had been hiding is reconciled back within her, as Paprika merges within Atsuko once again. Whether or not Atsuko's decisions or feelings are right or wrong is besides the point, the film promotes a high value in truth to oneself. In that moment there was nothing more true to Atsuko than her love.
Near the conclusion of the film, reality and dreams begin blurring together. The ideal fantasies and unachievable dreams become within the reach of your everyday citizen. The parade, as discussed earlier, represents the desire to escape from the difficulties of reality, and when it invades the real world, most gratefully embrace this opportunity. This is showcasing an unhealthy depiction of reconciliation. When people attempt to reconcile their dreams with reality without having done anything, their warped, unearned bliss is often sickly and transformative. The people begin to morph into elements of the parade, joining the march towards their deaths, an almost direct punishment for their greed.
The final discussion of reconciliation is between or protagonist and our villain. Though it may seem like a quite simple solution on first glance: "our hero transforms into a powerful being, who is easily able to consume our villain", it actually stays perfectly consistent with the message of the entire film. Our final battle is not one of strength, but of truth to oneself. Atsuko has finally become one with herself, finally consuming Paprika when she realized her own love. The chairman on the other hand, is continuing wrestling with his conceptions of his own dreams. He claims to be a protector of dreams, saying that they shall not be violated by the likes of technology, yet he uses that same technology to control them. He claims to be creating a dream world in reality but only wreaks destruction upon it. He claims a noble quest but it is only fueled by his own lust for power. He chastises Osani's jealously but his own jealousy drives this anger. The chairman is the most un-reconciled character, and for this reason, his dream can so easily be consumed by our new, whole Atsuko. For what is the naive folly of a lust for power against the firm will of someone who understands themselves. Thus concludes our story, leaving Atsuko and Tokita to a happy life, our villains stopped, and Konakawa one step closer to accepting his true self, as he finally returns to the cinema.
"In a world of inhumane reality, it is the only humane sanctuary left. That is a dream. That parade is full of refugees who were unwillingly chased out of reality."
- The Chairman
There are many claims about Christopher Nolan film Inception ripping off/taking inspiration from Paprika, whether it be concept of the DC Mini or the similar dream sequences. Regardless of whether those claims are grounded in truth or not, you may have noticed that outside the synopsis, I did not once mention the technology that carried the plot, nor the actual thriller story iself. Paprika is so jam-packed with explorable themes, concepts, and symbolism, that the plot intrigue is almost irrelevant to an appreciation for the film. That is probably most succinctly put, my point. I do like the action-adventure mystery thriller plot, however there are many aspects of the film that do not match my personal tastes, and the fact of the matter is: this film stands completely on its own as an exploration into dreams and reconciliation, plot aside. So such a comparison to another film may be insulting, but is more importantly irrelevant.
It was honestly quite hard to decide where to section off parts of this analysis (as it was not written linearly) because the themes are so interwoven within each other. If I took it character by character I would be tackle the story out of order, so I instead thought it best to show the interconnected nature of the story by being bad at placing my paragraphs. All in all, Paprika is a wondrous film, and it is truly saddening that we will not see another Satoshi Kon work again. Even though this film is so not up my alley, it is a fantastic piece of art that provides a detailed message on dreams and reconciliation, backed up by stunning visuals, fast-paced action, a mystifying soundtrack, memorable characters, and grotesque distortions of reality for us all to remember.
"I'm sorry, but movies really aren't my thing"