English Title: Paprika
Original Title: Papurika
Country of Origin: Japan
Studio: Madhouse, Sony
Director: Satoshi Kon
Producer(s): Masao Takiyama, Jungo Maruta
Screenplay: Satoshi Kon , Seishi Minakami
Cinematographer: Michiya Katou
Art Director: Nobutaka Ike
Editor: Takeshi Seyama
Runtime: 90 minutes
Starring/Cast: Megumi Hayashibara, Akio Ôtsuka , Koichi Yamadera
Police detective Konakawa is undergoing experimental treatment for anxiety using the DC Mini, a newly-created device that allows therapists to become part of the dreams of their patients. He is guided through his experiences by a woman named Paprika, who is the dream alter-ego of Dr. Chiba, one of the chief researchers on the DC Mini project. However, when a DC Mini is stolen from the lab, the project is jeopardized. The thief is able to use the device to invade the consciousnesses of people who are not even attached to a psychotherapy machine, which makes them act erratically and eventually lapse into a coma. Chiba and her colleagues, Drs. Tokita and Shima, team up with Konakawa to try to discover who is behind the theft of the machine. Their search leads them to some of their own colleagues within the research institution, who want to use the machine for their own purposes. Dr. Chiba uses her Paprika personality to try to fight them in the dream world, culminating in a surreal, apocalyptic battle through the city of Tokyo that bridges the worlds of dreams and reality.
Paprika (based on a science fiction novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, whom critic Takayuki Tatsumi has dubbed ‘the guru of Japanese metafiction’) presents an engaging pop-psychological world that resembles our own, aside from the presence of a fantastical device that allows people to see and enter into the dreams of others. The visuals by animation studio Madhouse are able to convey a sense of vibrancy and fluidity in the movements of the characters. The fact that the film so handily engages the eye plasters over some of the defects in the storytelling. The theft of the DC Mini is really a MacGuffin in the film—it’s not really a detective story, so the identity of the culprits does not require a lot of serious investigative work. Still, the fact that the workings of the DC Mini and the “psychotherapy machines” are never explained are likely to baffle viewers who care about such things. In a film like Ghost in the Shell (1995), the crossover between reality and dream/virtual worlds occurs due to the advent of high technology implanted in people’s heads. The same may be the case in Paprika, but since the majority of the world appears to be contemporary Japan, save for a few technological innovations, this kind of crossover can appear haphazard and sloppy. However, if one suspends such disbelief, the visuals might be sufficient for a thought-provoking ride.
It is intriguing that, as a science fiction film, Paprika displays a strong bias against geeks, or otaku. This is mainly directed at the morbidly overweight Dr. Tokita. The creator of the DC Mini, he is still a child at heart, giving very little thought to his social responsibilities or the implications of what he creates. In contrast to other depictions of geeks in Japanese film and television that range from the lauditory to the cautionary, the depiction of Tokita comes across simply as mean. However, Paprika does have an important, albeit trite and simplistic, call for engagement with morals and social responsibilities for the technophiles who may make a significant portion of the film’s audience.