SF in Anime III: Paprika

Paprika (2006) is an animated SF thriller based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s novel of the same name. Co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon, it was his fourth and final feature film before his death in 2010. Kon’s works often depict explorations of social stigmas and the human psyche, which makes for some rather intense and often nightmarish viewing. Kon’s directorial debut, Perfect Blue (1997), is often discussed alongside Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and thought to be, if not a direct influence, at least an inspiration for the later film.

Paprika’s beautifully animated opening sequence effectively sets the tone for the rest of the film. The normal sight of a woman driving a moped soon morphs into the totally unnormal and the series of shots that follow really break down the barriers between reality and not-reality. The figure is shown to be jumping in and out of television screens and pictures, flying and wandering ghost-like through walls and people. Alongside that, she’s also depicted interacting with clearly normal people, eating, driving.

Set in the near future, a revolutionary new psychotherapy treatment called dream therapy has been invented which allows one person to enter the dreams of another. Although unfinished and not officially sanctioned as a treatment, the head of the research team begins to use this machine to help psychiatric patients outside of the research facility. In order to protect her identity, she uses her alter-ego “Paprika” in the dream world. Whilst Doctor Atsuko Chiba, our protagonist, is using the device for the benefit of others, one major downside is that whilst it remains unfinished, anyone can use the device to access another person’s dreams. The theft of one of these machines leads to all hell breaking loose, as the thief invades peoples’ minds whilst they’re awake and distracts them with both their own dreams and those of other people.

I love Paprika. It’s a work of art, with its mind-bending mix of reality and dreams coupled with stunning and often disturbing visuals. Highly recommended!