It's not a stretch to say that Paprika is the movie that Satoshi Kon has been building up to. Simply attaching his name to a film indicates its content: a trip into the human psyche where perspectives blend and questions about the nature of "self" are posed. This is no different and follows a similar formula to his other films where alternate realities begin to intrude on actual reality, eventually blurring the already indistinct line between the two. Intellectualism and introspection aside, while not a different blueprint to previous movies such as Perfect Blue or Millennium Actress, Paprika is far better paced and perhaps a lot more subtle than previous works, helped no doubt by the blindingly excellent animation from auteur favourite, Madhouse studios.
The questions Paprika asks are not new to anyone who has had a cursory glance at the philosophy and literature surrounding recent Hollywood fare, most notably The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind among others; how it asks them is unique though. The film focuses on a device which allows a psychotherapy professional to both view and interact with a person's dreams, potentially identifying the root cause of their psychological problem and "fixing" it; this sets up a tight cast of characters ranging from an obese genius to a duplicitous therapist to a troubled police officer, all of whom take part in a technicolour journey that eventually culminates in a potentially world-altering event. The aforementioned therapist has the titular alter ego whose flippancy is only matched by her choice of attire and it is through her eyes and dives into dreamscapes that the story unfolds.
It is an odd thing that the story, given such a nebulous and abstract nature, is so immediately accessible; common logic is thrown to the side but the progression through each dream is tangible and familiar with its own set of innately recognisable rules. Peering into ones' dreams is rarely a passive experience and by the end of the film it's easy to have built a deep, unspoken rapport with the characters, weaknesses and flaws and all. Beyond all this is the never blatant but rarely hidden symbolism, numbers and animals all play a role in layering the story with more depth than one viewing can reveal. All of this together creates an astonishing package that is hard to find fault with.
The excellence of content is only furthered by the flawless presentation, opening with a rampant and glittering circus performance, and ending with a chaotic and destructive parade there is no part of the art that ever feels underdone. Backgrounds are rich and alive with detail, characters run and stumble with pleasing realism and none of the tell-tale artefacts of CG are present, all of this and presented in high definition it's difficult to know what to praise: the talented team of animators behind the paintbrushes or the vision strong and diverse enough to create such a world.
Perhaps the greatest problem that Paprika faces is one of composition. Previous outings by Satoshi Kon held a sense of wonder at the otherworldly nature innate to the story be that an actress on the rise or one whose illustrious career has long since passed; while the film is anything but mundane, it's difficult to feel like anything has been accomplished in the movie that wasn't your own doing. The questions it poses are interesting to explore and to ponder on long after the final frame has passed, yet the ambiguous narrative ending is bookended with a romantic revelation that can only be described as surprisingly blatant; with all that took place during the movie the achievements of the characters feel insignificant, even on a personal level. This means walking away at the end leaves pontification more than it does gratification, perhaps in the knowledge that the real merit of the film is in the long-term rather than the short term satisfaction.
Paprika is an excellent movie by any measure and picking fault with it means arguing minutiae and personal opinion. It's the latter that will prove contentious to some though, the very nature of the film can at times feel bloodless and distant like someone describing an emotion. It is without a doubt required viewing for anyone with more than a passing interest in anime or film but its juxtaposition of art-house sensibilities and impeccable visual appeal will be the decisive measure of enjoyment.