The master here is Japanese legend-in-the-making Satoshi Kon, whose work pedestals only with Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, who won an Academy Award for Spirited Away. Kon’s previous work, Tokyo Godfathers, has been recognized as a sentimental Capra homage. Paprika, in an alternate realm, is a near-lethal concoction of Fellini, Buńuel, Dali, and Aphex Twin.
The story, sourced from Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1993 novel, centers on the DC Mini, an unfinished device used to enter the world of others’ dreams. The DC Mini is stolen and is being used to mesh reality and the dreamworld, driving some to their graves. Psychiatrist Atsuko Chiba launches the investigation, channeling her dream-persona Paprika to melt into the subconscious and solve the puzzle.
The other characters, however minor, are pure stock anime: a chisel-jawed, internet-curious detective aiding Atsuko, the bloated slug who invented the DC Mini, and the jumpy, miniature doctor.
The brilliantly edited Paprika is tense, almost humorous in the conscious, but at its most inventive in the dream/nightmare sequences, which are hodgepodged with a synthesized parade of bandleading amphibians and marching refrigerators like an animated, somehow trippier version of the Sgt. Peppers album cover.
The animation in both the conscious and sub-such is envisioned in a way to make you forget to read the subtitles. But even aided by the textual translation, Paprika is a windy, cloudy path—there’re limitless interpretations to be made, all (un)necessary to the story.
I’ve rambled about the visuals, almost afraid to touch upon the story and what it hides. As generally strong as the plot is, it thrives off the images. This is what 2D animation can do. There were, of course, fantastic feats under the whip of Walt Disney, and Kon alludes to some of the Disney classics he owes much to, Pinocchio and Dumbo included. But if that titular elephant dabbled in absinthe for a trip, each cel of Paprika is blotter paper.
Tsutsui and Kon’s Paprika (30:05): This making-of documentary focuses on the evolution of the project, from Tsutsui’s novel to Kon’s feature and the subsequent premieres. This is a highly informative, if overlong, look at the psychoanalytical themes of the film through interviews, storyboards, production meetings, and the creators at work.
A Conversation about the “Dream” (29:02) sits voice actors Megumi Hayashibara and Toru Furuya down with Tsutsui and Kon to discuss their favorite scenes, voice acting, and most prominently, the fantasy of it all. Again informative, but again overlong.
The Dream CG World (15:08): DP Michiya Kato covers key sequences of the film and how computer graphics helped make them more complete and aesthetic. A breezy and fascinating watch.
The Art of Fantasy (12:06) is a piece essentially devoted to the colors of Paprika and how they enhance the finished product.