Visually, this movie is just amazing. Near the end, when everyone is being drawn into the collective dream, I swear my mouth was literally hanging open in amazement (maybe awe?) as I watched all those colorful, crazy things parade through town. I also enjoyed the opening credits, in which Paprika, who's sort of maybe the dream avatar of Chiba, one of the therapists who works with the dream technology (the "DC mini"), flits around town.
The story itself is like some sort of weird psychological horror thriller. Chiba and others go around in the waking world, trying to find out who's behind all of this so they can get the missing DC mini back, while Paprika helps out in the dreaming world, but it's not always so simple. People find themselves getting accidentally drawn into the dreaming world without even realizing it - especially dangerous when their dream actions put them in real life danger.
I think this is the first anime I've ever seen with an obese person who is actually an obese person, not just a person who is large. For instance, I think Rurouni Kenshin has at least one huge character whose hugeness only affects him in that it makes him a dangerous fighter. In this movie, Tokita, the obese genius who created the DC mini, eats enough for several people, sweats, and gets stuck in an elevator. Although I don't think he really sees his weight as a drawback, or at least not enough of one for him to actually do something about it, his weight also isn't an asset.
I don't consider this to be director Satoshi Kon's best work, despite the jaw-dropping amazingness of some scenes, but it's not a bad movie either. If this is your first exposure to his work, I'm sure your mind will be blown. Kon likes morphing one person into another, strangeness, characters with multiple selves, and creepy awesome imagery. The dream world gives Kon the chance to indulge himself to the max.
One of the reasons this wasn't really my favorite Satoshi Kon movie, though, is because it got to be really difficult making sense of what was going on and who certain characters were. By the end of the movie, there are indications that Paprika and Chiba are more separate than you might think, and the two dream bartenders say something that indicates there's another world, but nothing is done with any of this. Maybe it would've made the movie too long or too unfocused if those bits had been further developed, but why include them at all if there's no room to work with them? Maybe Kon will do another movie with Paprika, or a whole show, but I doubt it.
Another one of the reasons this wasn't really my favorite Satoshi Kon movie was the tacked-on romance between Chiba and Tokita (yes, the obese guy gets the girl - if you haven't watched the movie yet and I've spoiled this for you, amuse yourself by looking for signs of love when you do watch the movie). On the one hand, it's great that Kon does the unexpected thing and matches Chiba up with the one guy the audience probably wouldn't have guessed. On the other hand, there really wasn't any sign that this was coming, as far as I could tell, unless you count Chiba's annoyance with Tokita's childishness and bad habits as a sign of love.
I've watched this movie both in English (my first viewing) and in Japanese with subtitles. I recognized a few of the voices in the English dub, such as Yuri Lowenthal (Tokita), Doug Erholtz (Osanai), and David Lodge (Shima). That didn't actually translate into liking the English dub. It wasn't bad, but I liked the Japanese voice cast better. It was easier for me to look at the characters and believe those voices were coming out of them when I was watching it in Japanese, whereas the English voice cast didn't always seem to match the characters they were playing. You might feel differently - everyone's got their own opinion about dub versus sub, and, for the most part, I think judgments on English voice casts are subjective. My favorites among both the casts were Doug Erholtz as Osanai and Cindy Robinson as Chiba, and Megumi Hayashibara as both Paprika and Chiba. Oh, I should also add that purists might not like the fact that the English dub adds and changes a few lines here and there - it didn't really bother me all that much, since I don't think any of the changes or additions were all that drastic.
I can't comment on the DVD extras, since I didn't get a chance to watch any of them.
Similar Books and Movies:
- The Cell (live action American movie) - A psychotherapist uses dream technology to journey inside the dreams of a comatose serial killer in the hopes of saving his final victim. This movie has a ton in common with Paprika: therapy using dream technology, blending reality and dreams to heighten the fear factor, and beautiful and messed up dream imagery. However, it's live action and is much, much gorier than Paprika. Paprika has an edge of the bouncy and cheerful to most of it, while The Cell has none of that. It's just gorgeously horrific.
- Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (anime movie) - Heavily cyborged police officer Battou is partnered with the still mostly human Togusa after Major Motoko Kusanagi's disappearance (don't ask me when she disappeared, I don't keep up enough with this series to know). They're assigned to investigate murders committed by prototype androids. If you want to understand everything that's going on with the characters, it probably helps to know something about the Ghost in the Shell world, which has several movies, a couple seasons of a TV series, and a manga series devoted to it (and probably more I don't even know about). However, I've added this movie to the list mainly because of its occasional reality-bending weirdness and beautiful and strange visuals, all of which you can enjoy without knowing too much of the backstory. All you really need to know is that it's set in the future, where nearly everyone has cyborg enhancements, even if only to their brains. Because of this, hackers are now more than just a danger to your bank account, they can invade your brain. Add the occasional philosophical discussion and some action, and you've got the Ghost in the Shell world.
- The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. This series should be viewed as a story that is over 1000 pages long, rather than as separate and unconnected stories. Although the stories may seem unconnected at first, just about everything is actually working towards the final, inevitable ending. If you liked Paprika's dreams visuals and creepy cheerfulness, you might like some of this series. Some of it is dark, and some of it isn't, but all of it tends to be weird. If you like fast-paced action, you may want to avoid this series, since it's got more of a slower, character-oriented story.
- Other works by Satoshi Kon - If you want something weird and scary, where reality is bent and people aren't what they seem, try Kon's Perfect Blue (anime movie), about a Japanese pop idol who wants to become a movie star. She takes a very sleazy role that's not in keeping with her shiny pop idol image, and one of her fans feels very betrayed and begins stalking her. If you'd like weird and creepy mystery, try Kon's Paranoia Agent (anime TV series), in which two detectives are trying to track down a mysterious boy known only as Lil' Slugger. This show focuses a lot on the hidden lives of the people affected by Lil' Slugger. If you want something beautiful and crazy that's a little sweeter than the show and movie I just mentioned, try Kon's Millennium Actress (anime movie). This movie is about a guy trying to film a documentary about a famous and reclusive actress, whose life replays itself in an idealized movie-like fashion around them as she recounts it. Millennium Actress switches locations in much the same way that Paprika's dream world shifts locations.