I’m a big fan of Satoshi Kon’s work, so when I heard that Paprika was showing at the Chicago Film festival nearly 2 years ago I had to go no matter what. So there I was with a fever, headache, and doing my best to hold back my coughing. After watching, I kind of wished I had stayed in bed. Perhaps it was due my illness but after a re-watching it I still share the same sentiments I had nearly 2 years ago.
Those familiar with Satoshi Kon’s work should know he likes to blend reality and illusion. Paprika was no exception, dealing with the dream world via DC mini, a device which can be used to enter someone’s dreams. As expected the dream world Kon created was incredibly imaginative and surreal. Animation and art for this movie was easily the best of Kon’s work as well as most anime. This movie was worth watching just for the animation and surreal world that Kon creates. Music was equally good, creating a haunting yet beautiful atmosphere. Sadly I don’t think its possible to even possible to describe the surreal and imaginative dream sequences in Paprika. However, that’s it, I could go on and on about the movie’s technical merit, but it doesn’t make up for its weak narrative.
Paprika featured highly imaginative imagery and excellent editing that Kon is known for however, what was it all for? If we take out the imagery out of the equation, what do we have left? The basic outline of Paprika’s story was wafer thin and had a painfully obvious twist near the end. In addition, a tacked on romance that made far less sense than even the most surreal imagery that Kon can muster. Chances are you’re thinking “Its all about the execution, who cares about a weak storyline as long as its done well.” Yes, execution is more important and surreal imagery and crazy editing can be used to make an otherwise boring story captivating. For example, Millennium Actress, one of Kon’s earlier works. However, in the case of Paprika the surreal imagery felt like it was the main point and the story/characters were secondary. Also, the imagery didn’t serve any purpose with respects to the story, it was there for the sake of being there and a “plot” to provide it some context.
What I said was only for the main plot line, the detective’s sub plot was sadly far more interesting. Here the use of imagery really suits his story and conflicts, similar in execution as in Millennium Actress. However, something is wrong when a sub plot is more interesting than the main story.
Characters are also pretty weak. The villain was pitifully boring and one-dimensional. Sadly, I can’t say otherwise for the rest of the cast. Also, the development of Atsuko and her romance at the end was so forced it was unbelievable. Once again, this confused me more than even the most surreal imagery Kon can muster. Konakawa (the detective) was the only saving grace in the cast of Paprika. He actually had a decent amount of characterization and actually developed through the course of the movie.
Paprika was a wholly imaginative work that only Satoshi Kon can create. He creates a landscape that was beyond words. This was coupled with amazing technical achievement by Madhouse, the animation studio. However, Paprika failed in terms of story and characters. The visuals didn’t serve much of a purpose with respects to the plot and felt like it was there for the sake of being there. Also, this plot was incredibly superficial and painfully predictable. The tacked on romance and forced character development was equally painfully and confusing. Konakawa was the only saving grace in terms of story and character however, something is wrong when a side character was more interesting than the main story. In the end, Paprika is more like a dream than Kon probably intended. It was captivating during but when it ends you’ll remember only a few visual snippets and forget everything else.