Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Tohru Furuya, Akio Ohtsuka, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Katsunosuke Hori, Kouchi Yamadera, Toru Emori, Akio Ōtsuka, Hideyuki Tanaka
Directed by Satoshi Kon
The final film of Satoshi Kon’s is something of a combination of all his previous ones. It has the reality warping confusion that characterizes his usual style, and it blends both the lighthearted cheer of Millennium Actress with the despondent terror of Perfect Blue, then adds in quirky-but-loveable characters like Tokyo Godfathers.
The standout feature of Paprika is its sci-fi premise. The plot revolves around a new device that lets you jump into other people’s dreams (just like the later film Inception would do). It was developed by a psychiatric research team for treating patients, but someone stole the thing and is using it for mysterious terrorist activities. But the science in this film is just there to trick you into thinking Paprika is a science fiction film. Once you peel back the layers, however, you find that it’s actually compete fantasy, and the weird stuff going on by the end of the film just can’t be explained by the device alone.
The most intriguing of the characters, though, are the two main characters — as they should be. The first is the lead researcher on the project, Dr. Atsuko Chiba, as straight-laced, no-nonsense a character as possible. She is contrasted with Paprika, a giddy fairy-like woman whose role and connection to Dr. Chiba is never directly explained, which brings me to one of my favorite traits of Kon’s work: his complete confidence to leave things unexplained. He’s perfectly happy to let you figure stuff out for yourself, and if you don’t get it, too bad for you. So taking a cue from him, I’ll just leave the question of Paprika’s nature hanging.
This is where the fantasy comes in, and looking back, so many of those scenes are left uncertain because of this. One of the major characters is a police detective having trouble with his dreams, and his constant communications with Paprika take place in some kind of chat room, except that it is a physical bar lounge at the same time. It’s a bizarre, surreal location that I would normally just write off as a dream sequence. But in this film, I’m not so sure. Dreams are very real things in this film, and there’s no taking for granted what is happening inside, or outside, of them.
Obviously, as with most Satoshi Kon films, you will have to be willing to dive into the confusing side of cinema, but of course that’s why I like it so much. I think I might prefer Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress a tad bit more, but from a purely technical perspective, I think Paprika edges them out. Honestly the only disappointing aspect of this film is that it is the last thing we will ever see from Satoshi Kon. I jumped into his films without much certainty of whether I would like any of them, but now that I’m done I have to say he earned every bit of his reputation as a fantastic director.