Movie Review: Paprika

I’m not sure I can explain Paprika. Let’s try.

Paprika is an anime movie about someone trying to take over the world of dreams, and the Bold Plucky Protagonist is the one who’s going to stop them. It’s also about psyche and psychiatry, with at least two characters figuring out what they’ve been hiding from themselves. It’s also just a trippy ride full of interesting cinematography and animation.

You shouldn’t be going in looking for a solid, serious plot, is what I’m saying.

The premise of Paprika isn’t too unusual—in fact, it’s pretty much the same as people getting trapped in virtual reality, except that dream logic adds an extra twist. (This includes things like jumping into picture frames, or a door leading somewhere completely different from where it did before.) The particular persistent dream they used reminded me more of Spirited Away than, say, The Matrix, which also helps to differentiate it from the real world.

It’s impossible to talk about movies centered around dreams in this day and age without mentioning Inception. Paprika is supposedly one of the inspirations for Inception, and you can see that in several quick scenes that match Inception directly. But the two movies take the ideas of shared dreaming in different directions, and their purposes also feel very different. While Inception is meticulously crafted and also designed to leave you with plenty of open questions for discussions, Paprika is more of a showcase of what dream logic can do and of the boundaries between dreams and reality. It has explanations, but it’s not overly concerned with making sense—just enough to not create contradictions. That also made it way closer for me to what dreams actually feel like; Inception was a little too stable and photorealistic.

(spoilers) I kind of wish more had been done with Paprika and Dr. Chiba being separate people. I thought that was going to be a key part of why she was able to withstand the effects of the dream-hijacking. But “I kind of wish more had been done with X” was true for me about most things in this movie.

I’m not sure I bought the ending—what happened with Dr. Chiba—but oh well. (It’s not that it couldn’t happen; it’s that it didn’t seem to be heading that way.)

I actually would have enjoyed some more adventures of Paprika: Dream Psychotherapist. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more as a TV series or manga. (It was apparently a book originally, so maybe there’s more in the book.)

So, would I recommend it? I suppose so. But especially if you’re into the animation side of things, because there’s plenty to see here. (After the movie, one of the friends who watched with us showed us the Every Frame a Painting analysis, which was great to point out some of the effects that “just worked” in context.)

In the last few days, I’ve also seen two other movies, both “finally”s of a sort: Koe no Katachi and Get Out. I’m not going to do a proper review for either of them because I don’t feel like I can answer the usual “who should see this movie?” question.

Koe no Katachi was a big hit last year, but it missed the mark a bit for me. It did strike me as a fairly honest story, which I usually like, but the ending message felt a bit off. The parts I enjoyed the most were the interactions with Yuzuru, and that makes me feel like I missed the point. Still, it is a story with a deaf girl as a main character, which is good, and it does cover themes of bullying and making amends. It was therefore interesting to compare it with Boku Dake ga Inai Machi. And I liked the music.

Get Out I assume you’ve heard of: a horror/comedy/documentary about a black man going to visit his white girlfriend’s rich family out in the middle of nowhere. While it’s not straight-up horror, it was still too much adrenaline-pumping and creepiness to really be my genre. (I’ve seen one horror movie before and that was also on the mild side.) It’s not really “comedy” either; while there are light notes of humor throughout, it’s not what defines the movie. But it was really well done in many ways, one of which was that it got me, a white man, to viscerally fear white people for a good chunk of the movie—not just the individual characters, but as an aggregate. (I have interesting thoughts on that but I’m not sure they’re cohesive or culturally-aware enough for them to make it onto this blog.) Props to Peele and Kaluuya.