published in Empire No.73, Sydney
Basing a film on any ‘is-it-a-dream-or-is-it-reality’ premise is an unimaginative strategy in the hands of most filmmakers wishing to fabricate surprising twists. Paprika dances a long tense tightrope, strung from one side to every cliché in the history of cinematic dreamscapes, across to another dimension firmly rooted in anime’s fantastical image-making. As with so much anime, the surface will appear familiar, causing many smarmy wannabe-critics to cite western movie precedents. But Paprika deliberately draws upon those referenced surfaces – literally, figuratively and symbolically – in order to project a unique vision of the Japanese mind.
Paprika is the avatar of research scientist Dr. Atsuko Chiba who has worked on a new dream machine (the DC Mini) which can record dreams. The machine also has potential applications for treating psychological disorders by allowing a doctor to enter the dream of a troubled mind in order to resolve conflicts and absolve trauma. But after the DC Mini is stole, Dr. Chiba’s desperate retrieval throws her into two worlds: the labyrinthine reality of the government department for whom she works, and the interlocking nightmare domains of at least four other potential suspects who may have stolen the machine for their own purposes.
As their individual dream worlds merge, Paprika generates a cyclogenic swirl of dreams within lies, neuroses within psychoses, and desires within fates. For some viewers, this may constitute a frustrating experience. But one is urged to persist with Paprika’s fatiguing disorientation – if not for considering the Rubix Cube structure of its narrative, at least for the film’s stunning visual transformations between animated reality and animated unreality. Paprika cunningly exploits anime’s outward declaration of being unreal to then slice off nano-layers of plausible visualization only to further warp one’s perception. Living up to the oft-cited comparison of movies to dreams, Paprika superbly animates the real to frame the imagined.