In the near future, a psychotherapeutic device called the DC Mini is invented, which enables therapists to access their patients’ dreams in order to better understand what is happening in their subconscious and thereby provide better treatment. While the device is still in its developmental stages, Dr Atsuko Chiba, who heads the team developing the DC Mini, begins to use it illegally to treat a variety of patients. She does this by assuming the identity of a projected alter ego called Paprika, from whose perspective she analyses her patients’ dreams. In this she is supported by her superior, Dr Toratarō Shima, and Dr Kōsaku Tokita, a genius with a rather immature personality who invented the DC Mini. One of Chiba’s patients is Detective Toshimi Konakawa, who is plagued by a recurring dream apparently related to an unsolved murder. However, when the DC Mini is stolen, an unknown intruder begins invading other peoples’ dreams, causing them to behave in anti-social and self-destructive ways. Suspicion falls on Tokita’s assistant Himuro, and the chairman of the development company, Dr Seijirō Inui, bans any further work on the DC Mini. An exhaustive and dangerous chase through multiple dreamscapes leads to the realisation that Himuro was just another victim, and that the people behind the theft are far closer to the project than was initially realised. As multiple dreams begin to collide, causing reality and the imaginary to start collapsing in on one another, the true face of the conspiracy reveals itself; at which stage Chiba and Konakawa must come to terms with the inner reality of who they are if the danger confronting humanity is to be effectively challenged – a challenge that can only be mounted through the unreal and yet very real presence of the entity known as Paprika…

Based on the 1993 novel by controversial Japanese novelist Yasutaka Tsutsui and produced by iconic studio Madhouse, “Paprika” was directed by the legendary Satoshi Kon and released in 2006. Animated in Kon’s trademark style that effectively combines old school cell animation with CGI graphics, “Paprika” is at once both a surrealist and an impressionistic exploration of the human heart and mind, deftly exploring the thin dividing line between desire, curiosity and obsession. In doing so, it reveals that dark shadows and motivations that often lurk behind our observable behaviours, while the sardonic humour throughout illuminates the weaknesses that often undermine our best intentions. The upbeat electronica soundtrack composed by Susumu Hirasawa – notable as one of the first soundtracks to employ the Vocaloid music system – adds unexpected emotional weight to the narrative, especially toward the end. Critically acclaimed and an immediate cult classic, “Paprika” is an abstract yet intelligible exploration of themes that range from the ethics of scientific development, the interface between human and artificial intelligence, the relationship between reality and the imagination, and the struggle of the human spirit in the face of technology’s depersonalising potential. Gorgeous to look and perfectly realised, “Paprika” is both emotionally affecting and thought-provoking viewing.   

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.