Jacob Gehman’s review published on Letterboxd:
Most of the time when I reappraise a film--at least, films where my opinion is vastly different from the consensus--I come away from the experience disappointed. My critical gut may not be able to represent the world, but it does sure represent me, so while I may not trust the me of 5 years ago (or even yesterday) to have properly reacted to a film, the reality is I was correct the first time.
Except when I'm not.
I've long loved director Satoshi Kon, although that is a love bought with two films (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers) and one series (Paranoia Agent). I watched Paprika before Kon's death in 2010 (RIP) and found it confusing and a lot of pretty colors and not much else. And, perhaps more importantly, it lacked the grimy horror of Perfect Blue. I always come into film rewatches hoping--nay, expecting--to enjoy it, but with Paprika I did have a better inkling, based on expectations. If you expect something like Perfect Blue, and you get something that isn't at all Perfect Blue, it colors the experience. Unfair? Maybe.
Paprika follows a group of researchers who have developed prototypes for a device that lets the user enter dreams. The goal seems to be some kind of therapy, at least in terms of allowing a therapist to enter a client's dream and observe/partake in it to hold find the client's deeply seeded problems. However, alarms are raised when several of the devices are stolen--the prototypes are still open to exploitation and dangerous in untrained hands. Who stole them? What is the goal?
What ensues is a game of cat-and-mouse through real life and the dream world.
The dream world never goes too crazy, understanding that when we're in dreams, we don't think they're particularly odd. It's only upon waking up that we're like, "Oh wtf." Yet there's still a beautiful surreal element to the dreams that make them very engaging. Like a parade of toys or trying to run down a hall and having the floor warp under your feet. This isn't a constant barrage of kaleidoscope images for the sake of making the dreamland trippy, yet we get really beautiful images none the less. It's actually a dazzlingly beautiful film at times. Even the blandness of the real world feels good, probably because of the strength of the main characters.
I'm especially fond of Atsuko, one of the main researchers/users of the device. She's a no nonsense woman. She can shoot someone a stare that would freeze hell. But she has another side to her--Paprika. Fun loving and likeable--someone clients connect with and like. And it's fascinating to watch these two sides, how they interact, how alike they can be, but also the different goals that drive them.
People like to reference Paprika in their Inception reviews, generally in a "Paprika did this better" kind of way. I get it. It's tempting to want to credit the no-name animated film that came out before the big budget blockbuster. But aside from the whole "going into dreams" thing, there's nothing alike about the two films. Actually, while watching this I was reminded at multiple points of The Cell from 2000. They're all great films, in my opinion anyway, but maybe I'm just really into films that use technology to enter the mind.
If you're into animated films, this one is a pretty damned good one to look up.