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Dreams in fiction are consistently boring. Dreaming is one of the most cryptic aspects of the human experience, but in fiction it's usually a transparent foreshadowing device for the lazy. It's a bad, ancient habit, found in Biblical mythology and modern fantasy novels. These dreams do very little that resemble aspects of real dreams, and not because they're not subtle. Dreams don't care for subtlety, or much of anything else for that matter. Their details are usually nonsensical, and do nothing to reveal the future and much more that reveals our own anxieties and neurosis. It's this nonsense that director Satoshi Kon wisely highlights in this movie. There's complicated science-fiction in the machinery that reveals dreams in Paprika, but it is never the star of the show. And that's how it should be: the actual science is rarely as cool as its results.
Paprika is a visually-dependent experience to a degree most movies aren't. A good example of this is the surreal parade of household appliances, national architecture, toys, butterflies, and a random assortment of other knick-knacks marching from one dream to the next, collecting more participants as it goes. There isn't much time dedicated to explaining how this parade invades other dreams and then the real world, and if you spend too much time worrying about that, you'll miss the rest of the movie. Just let it be enough to know that this happens, that it's bad, and it must be stopped.
This approach makes Paprika feel like a looser film, despite the snappy pacing of the story. Anime is usually a lot more structured than this, whether it's borrowing from an established database of character tropes and plot points or building an elaborate pseudoscience to explain super-powered fights between ninjas. I've often heard that the Japanese rarely care as much as Westerners do for explanations about why things are the way they are in movies, and thus have an easier time accepting fantasy, but I'm not sure that even they are used to seeing a movie that leans so heavily on mood and visuals. This isn't a bad thing, mind you, but it's worth knowing about going into it. Paprika requires an attentive mind that doesn't worry about the "why's."
Underneath these beautiful visuals are two stories, both mysteries, one a crime drama about the stolen dream machine and how it's wreaking havoc on the researchers and patients who use it, and another, more personal drama about a patient using this dream machine under Paprika's guidance to understand why he's been suffering a recurring dream. Both of these stories are fairly straightforward and tie into each other very neatly. They also have thoughtful tangents about movies, reality, the Internet, and of course dreams, the kind we see at night and the kind we hope to fulfill. These are well established themes for Kon's work, so their familiarity might make them lose some of their profundity for folks who have already seen the rest of Kon's movies.
Of course, there's a degree of professionalism and polish on display here rarely seen in anime, but exactly what you'd expect from a talent like Kon, and that's another reason why this movie is such a treat. Kon was a director with fantastic eye for detail who drew his own elaborate storyboards and controlled a lot of the production, owning his movies in a way few directors do. It's a damn shame that he's gone, and while Paprika is an "underwhelming" bookend to his short, fantastic career, it's only "underwhelming" because of how amazing his previous films were. Paprika is less ambitious and more straightforward than Millennium Actress or Perfect Blue, but even then, it's still a high watermark in anime.
Another great movie from a career that ended too soon — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Teens and above. Rather violent at times and it really does take a mature mind to understand that these are adults and why they behave the way they do. Expect some nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: DVD release
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Paprika © 2007 Madhouse Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
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