A few weekends ago when I was in Montreal I saw a movie called “Paprika”. It’s definitely one of the finest flicks I’ve seen. Weeks after seeing it, some of the imagery still haunts me. It feels a little like The Wall meets A Scanner Darkly
The plot essentially concerns a device that allows people to enter other people’s dreams. It was invented as tool to help therapists, but one of them is stolen and is used for nefarious purposes, haunting people, driving them mad, and destroying their minds. The scientists working on the team that pioneered the device must find it and get it back before too much damage is done. Our protagonist is the therapist Dr. Chiba Atsuko, and her dreamside alter ego, Paprika — an expert “dream detective”.
It’s not an “easy watch.” The movie is awash in vivid dreamscape imagery, some of it playful, some of it solemn, some of it downright spooky. The viewer is sometimes challenged to discern the difference between dream and reality, while the narrative expertly substitutes one for the other. Throughout this tangle, one may at times be tempted to give up on grasping the threads of the plot, overwhelmed by an increasingly tempestuous swirl of fantasy; fortunately, giving in and allowing yourself to be swept away by the tide of imagery is not boring, it’s enthralling. Nor is it just en exercise in impressionism. Part of the brilliance of Paprika is that these challenges to the viewer are a proxy for understanding the experiences of the characters in the story; by the time the major plot elements have unfolded, they have experienced similar challenges.
Paprika has a few major visual themes, many of them based on the psychological issues of the characters. These are enhanced with a superb soundtrack that magnifies their emotional impact. The fantastic parade motif is both festive and somehow ominous, as if lurking amongst all the marching kitchen appliances, dolls, trumpet-playing frogs, geese, and ticker-tape is an unpleasant secret. Paprika’s theme is fluid, ethereal, and triumphant, an electronica melody playing over a powerful fundament of choir and odaiko (the giant Japanese drum). Other tracks are tension-enhancers, super-creepy and insidious.
A few days after I saw the movie I bought the Paprika Soundtrack.
Sadly, Paprika was never in wide release, and at this point is playing almost nowhere. I am at this point looking forward to its release on DVD.