Film Review - Paprika (2006)

fig 1. Paprika film poster
As Satoshi Kon's final film before his unfortunate death, Paprika marks the end of an influential reign of unique animated films. Similar to his previous films such as Perfect Blue (1999) and Millennium Actress (2001) Satoshi uses anime as a deliberate aesthetic choice in order to be able to achieve a level of surrealism not available otherwise. When faced with the narrative however, challenges some of the most serious film writers who deal with existentialism and reality. The combination of visual style with animation and ability to reflect adult themes in story, proves Paprika and Satoshi Kon's other works as stand-alone works of art that have gone on to influence other highly prolific directors such as Christopher Nolan.

Paprika follows a purposely disjointed and fragmented story about dreams and how they interact with reality; using imagery of bustling parades and over-sized toys to reflect childlike simplicity in humans having dreams. The music is also telling of this; invoking a spiritualistic sense of discovery, mixed with subtle darkness laying underneath. This is most apparent in the song "Parade" and "Byakkoya no Musume" (Girl of the White Tiger Field). Composed by Hirasawa Susumu the music made and adapted for Paprika is used often and in shots that show the dream world, or it crossing over into reality. By doing so creates a spectacle among what can only be described as only being able to happen in a dream.

fig 2. Parade of toys
Paprika, the character herself acts as the dream-world version of Dr. Chiba, who is trying to develop the DC Mini - a device that allows the wearer to go into deep REM sleep, thus dreaming; but when connected with another person wearing a DC Mini can share dreams between eachother. This concept is both literal and metaphoric in its meaning as Satoshi uses it as a device to communicate dreams that come from REM sleep; and dreams that come from aspiration. - The conceptualized ideas of wants and goals.

Among the anime style choices of Paprika, many of the classic tropes of an anime are present such as a notable "bad guy" and "henchman", which notably distract from the bigger idea of existentialism. Satoshi manages to use each character however to stand for something relating to the latter. Doctor Seijirou, the wheelchair bound villain increasingly becomes cartoonish in his "world-domination of the dream world", and even in trying to protect it. By the end of Paprika, as he becomes engulfed by the spirit of Paprika/Dr. Chiba it signifies not a completion of dreams, but more so conquering those who stand in the way. In this end scene, a reference is made to Evangelion and its own end, and whilst subtle parades its underlying themes of existentialism about the scale of one person and their dreams when compared with the scale of the world. Other references throughout Paprika are sporadic (fig 3. Paprika dressed as Sun Wukong) and often jokey, but seem out of place. He does manage to include a careful amount of culture - especially Japanese culture for example salary men and up-skirt camera shots in one of the last parades where the dream world hypothetically carries over into reality, but Satoshi's own commentary on it is missing. Regardless it presents the audience with enough freedom to be able to perceive the story Satoshi was trying to convey.

fig 3. Paprika dressed as Sun Wukong
Paprika is colourfully dark in its approach. By using the style of anime to present the subject of existentialism, Satoshi Kon provides a thought-provoking film that by the end leaves a peaceful state-of-mind on something that can often be left creating a downtrodden and troubled feeling. Paprika certainly wouldn't be the same without its music or repeating aesthetic of parading toys but to take that out would be missing the point to begin with.


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