Old Review: Paprika

PaprikaA new revolutionary device has been invented for psychotherapy and mental care, the DC Mini. The DC Mini allows scientists to explore and record a patients dream, exploring their unconscious thoughts to understand the cause of people’s fears, instabilities or traumas. The DC Mini was invented by scientist Dr Tokita and best friend Himuro, and despite not being passed by Government, is mainly used in testing, research and freelance psychotherapy by trustworthy friend of Tokita, Dr Atsuko Chiba, under a subconscious alter-ego persona known only as “Paprika”. The entire research facility are unfortunately in panic as a few prototypes of the DC Mini were stolen before fully programmed controls were put in, meaning that the thief can enter anyone into a dream state and no one can stop or control them. The search is on for the missing DC Minis to avoid what can be considered the largest dream terrorist attack known in history, and only the scientists and Paprika are the only people who can stop it.

Starting in 1991, Yatsutaka Tsutsui released a four part novel called “Paprika” to high acclaim from Japanese readers. It was then later adapted into a manga by Reiji Hagiwara in 1995 but for reasons which have never been explained fully, it wasn’t published until 2003, 10 years after the novel.  At around the same time, Director and Animator Satoshi Kon was working on an anime film adaptation, since having a great experience of using psychology and bizarre imagery from directing Paranoia Agent. The film was animated by MadHouse Studios; he brought on Susumu Hirasawa for music after composing for both Paranoia Agent and Millennium Actress. He even brought on Tsutsui to supervise the project and gave him a cameo voice role as one of the Bartenders. Paprika premiered at the September 2006 Venice Film Festival, and then later in Japanese theatres in November of the same year.

How can I describe the animation in words that would give it the credit it deserves? Well, even when compared to Studio Ghibli, this is definitely the best animation I’ve seen in any film of my life. The creativity from the opening scene of a circus in the dream of a Police Detective to the end is just beyond imagination, the colours, effects and transitions are so varied and spectacular that I can’t even imagine another film, 3D or 2D, with or without computers, ever getting higher, and since my favourite film of all time in Pom Poko, and I’ve enjoyed legendary pieces of works such as Spirited Away, Akira and Sky Crawlers, that is saying a lot. I think the only problem I find the lip-syncing to be lazy at points, but that could be due to the voice-overs but I’ll get to that later. Some scenes are also a bit repetitive with minor variations, but since they are important to the plot and it isn’t an exact copy and paste so it’s minor.

The art style goes for a very realistic feel, with…some psychedelic visuals in the dream sequences. There are some great use of atmosphere and lighting to really add to the setting, and some of the smallest characters are really scary thank to the atmosphere of the scene.

I had absolutely no expectations about the music when I first saw the film. When I heard the music my god was a hooked to it, it is amazing, very original and extremely memorable, I love the parade theme music so much I can’t get it out of my head to this day. Susumu Hirasawa decided to compose the music using the musical synthesis tool Vocaloid, which really well known on the internet in the Nico Nico Douga and Japanese Youtube community. What come out are really digital and creative orchestrated pieces, which really suit the bizarre imagery that appears in the film. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of it, there are a lot of silent scenes that help focus on character development and dialogue, but most of the best music is repeated over and over again, and even though the music is still enjoyable, it bothers me that Hirasawa didn’t do anymore tracks beyond the two.

The voice over in both English and Japanese are very good, but both versions have minor flaws because of one character. In the Japanese versions, the dolls are really annoying, and in the English version, Paprika’s voice is annoying. The English version also has the problem of lip syncing, where there are quite a few scenes where the dialogue doesn’t match up at all. If I was to advise what version to watch then I would say it’s what you would prefer in general, so if you don’t like reading subtitles then English it is, and Japanese if you prefer watching anime in its most original form.

The story is nice from start to end; it mixes comedy, psychological horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and surprisingly, both romance and detective genres as well. It’s interesting to see a film with both a main story and a side story intertwines really well. The side story is about a detective who has anxiety problems caused by a recurring nightmare he has, involving him chasing a culprit, with a friend betraying him and several references to popular films such as “Tarzan” and “From Russia with Love”. His good friend Professor Shima recommends him to Paprika for help, and he eventually progresses to realise the cause of his problems, and his story and character really blends into the main story. One interesting thing to point is that there are a lot of American film references in the film so it is really fun to find them. The only issue I have with the film is that there is also a relationship with both Atsuka and Chiba, and I don’t think it was really necessary to add that one plot point in. I would also say that if you aren’t fully comfortable with the weirdness anime is normally then watch it at your own risk, I’ve watched it with friends who are like that and while they say they liked it they didn’t adapt themselves too well for the imagery.

Overall, if Paprika isn’t one of the best anime films to ever be made, it is certainly one of the most imaginative and creative pieces ever to be released. It is very creative with brilliant animations and very memorable soundtracks. While I haven’t seen his other works, this film definitely has granted me the urge to see Satoshi Kon’s other works, and there is a clear reason why there is a huge loss after his death on August 24th 2010. May he rest in peace and enjoy what he has left behind for us to see.

Paprika is available from Manga Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The original novel by Yatsutaka Tsutsui was translated and is available from Alma Books since April 2009. A manga which was adapted from the original novel and was written by Reiji Hagiwara has not been released to western audiences.

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