PAPRIKA - Blu-ray review

Paprika is one weird film.

James Plath's picture

"Don't you think dreams and the Internet are similar?" Paprika asks.

I don't know, I'm thinking. I never thought of it in those terms. Even kicking it around after hearing that line, I still can't see the connection. It seemed like a deep thought, but the more you think about it, the less profound it feels.

That's the way it is with "Paprika," an R-rated anime film that takes full advantage of animation to explore the characters' dreamscapes and the segues between those scapes and the narrow escapes the characters have in "real life." On the one hand, you believe there could be such a thing as the DC Mini, an brand-new invention that can be used by psychologists to enter patients' dreams. But the more these guys talk, the more they sound like parapsychologists, and the less believable any of it seems. What holds our attention, though, is the dream-like narrative and some striking scenic set design and backgrounds that look especially captivating in 1080p--like a lush office garden of ferns and plants, for example. And what adds a layer of complexity to a visually kaleidoscopic mind-blower of a film is a complicated moral subtext that questions scientific advances versus an individual's right to privacy.

The plot revolves around Dr. Chiba Atsuko (Megumi Hayashibara) and her colleagues at the Foundation for Psychic Research. The inventor of the DC Mini, a man the size of a sumo wrestler named Tokita Kohsaku (Toru Furuya), has just reported that all three prototypes for the DC Mini were stolen. Now, here's where I get a bit lost. Apparently, he didn't program them yet, so whoever stole them can "connect to a psychotherapy machine at any time," whatever that means, and these dream terrorists can enter a person's mind, mix dreams, and blur reality . . . somehow. As I said, the science gets a bit fuzzy for me, but the dream worlds created by director Satoshi Kon ("Perfect Blue," "Tokyo Godfathers") are captivating enough to where it's easy to live with the fuzzy science. And hazy plot.

Assigned to the case is police detective Konakawa (Akio Ohtsuka), who's such a goldmine of bizarre dreams that it's a wonder he can even function. Konakawa, who suspects it's an inside job, tries to stop the dream terrorists and recover the DC Minis. Helping him, though not necessarily with his full knowledge, is of a kind of dream-guide-figure named "Paprika" (also voiced by Hayashibara, presumably to suggest that Paprika is an alter ego of hers).

Now, I have to admit that I still don't get how the dream terrorists were able to virtually invade the minds of the people at the Foundation--how they can instigate dreams, even mix them up--or how Paprika functions as a symbol or dream manifestation, but as I said, the images themselves, the constant blurring between reality and dreams, and a subtext that makes you ultimately question the morality of it all are enough to complicate your own head. The first stages of dream-sleep are described as a kind of short film, while full REM sleep is a "Hollywood blockbuster." That's really the visual effect that this film produces, and there are plenty of clever film references ("The Greatest Show on Earth," "Tarzan," "Roman Holiday") to suggest the effect that movies have on our subconscious psyches. Part of the fun, in fact, is trying to spot all the references. But be warned that gives the film it's R-rating are the bizarre things that the villains do to try to rattle their "subjects, and one of them is the threat of sexual violence.

As you might expect, this phantasmagorical film is just the kind that's perfect for HD. It looks great in 1080p High Definition, with colors so saturated at times you think they're about to burst. Other times, the detail is what catches your eye, or the edge detail that makes everything so pleasantly 3-D. The film was transferred to disc using MPEG-4 technology, with the aspect ratio 1.85:1.

The audio is a vibrant Japanese or English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, with additional Dolby Digital 5.1 options in Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, Portuguese, Spanish, and French. Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Thai, and Portuguese. The Japanese-language special features have subtitles in English and Korean.

Included here is the same filmmaker's commentary as on the DVD version, with Kon joined by composer Susumu Hirasawa and one of his associate producers. They cover the usual ground, with the main focus on artistic scenic construction. A making-of feature splices in interviews with cast and crew, but doesn't really go into the kind of depth that makes these things fascinating. "A Conversation about the Dream" groups the voice actors, Kon, and Yasutaka Tsutsui (who wrote the original story) to talk about the idea of the dreams. Another okay feature at best.

The best features, for my money, are the ones that delve into the artwork: a storyboard comparison of three scenes, an "Art of Fantasy" featurette that zeroes in on the illustration process more than the other features, and "The Dream CG World" explores the computer effects. Trailers round out the bonus feature.

Bottom Line:
"Paprika" is one weird film. If you buy into the sci-fi, it's a visual smorgasbord, especially on Blu-ray. The basic movement animation isn't as creative as the backgrounds and images that parade before you as if YOU were the dreamer.


Film Value