Paprika seems like a dare, like Satoshi Kon is daring live action filmmakers to beat the capabilities of animation in bringing out a filmmaker’s animation. Which is appropriate in a film with a plot that I’ll get into starting now. It has a lot of upswings, literal ones at times, but it also has downtime plot points. That downtime depicts some of its characters, which include a few neuroscientists. They make contingency plans after one of their colleagues allegedly stole a dream analysis software.
That theft causes a ripple involving the few people who submitted their subconscious into the software. These few character find their dreams merging uncontrollably. Dr. Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara) is the more calm, pensive person within the group while her boss, Dr. Shima (Katsunosuke Hori) is appropriately cartoonish. Together they make for a good contrast, taking a break from a crazy world that’s intruding into their antiseptic sanctuaries.
Films about dreams come in every other year now. It might be unfair to compare this modern classic with those that come after it. After all, why call a film trope-y if the film I’m writing about might have started the same trope. In fairness, it is a trope when characters willingly enter the dream world to wake each other up. This is what the titular Paprika (also Hayashibara), an AI dream analyst, does to a cop, Det. Konawa (Akio Otsuka). Already investigating another case, they need him to figure out who the thief is. Either way, this film places itself above its successors in the way it executes its ideas. Satoshi Kon pays attention to every object in this amalgamated dream world and designs how each object moves. She used to know how to navigate the dream world, but her job becomes more complex each minute.
Paprika navigates this dream world with Dr. Chiba, her fellow scientists, and that one detective. And this world is a celebration of color, a love letter to film (sorry). And here, Satoshi Kon showing his viewers that he can incorporate 3D technology within his usual 2D aesthetic. Again, there’s a second trope here, when a gay sub-villain is actually a victim, revealing the film’s true villain. Satoshi Kon uses subtle chiaroscuro during the villain’s transformation. And it leads up to one of best boss fights in film history. And he uses that chiaroscuro again during downtime scenes which speaks to artists’ obsession with capturing and reimagining light. The Criterion Channel is showing Paprika in a series that it calls Art House Animation: Season 1, which also features Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece Millennium Actress. They’re hinting at a second season, and I hope to see what that season brings.