Blu-ray
Worth a Look
3.5 stars
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Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
2.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

Paprika

Street Date:
November 27th, 2007
Reviewed by:
High-Def Digest staff
Review Date: 1
November 27th, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2006
Studio:
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Length:
90 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Movies don't usually make me feel stupid. I've never had problems wrapping my head around sci-fi twisters like 'Donnie Darko,' anime brain-busters like 'Tekkon Kinkreet,' or trip-fests like 'Eraserhead.' But somehow Japanimation director Kon Satoshi ('Perfect Blue,' 'Millennium Actress,' and 'Tokyo Godfathers') left my mind in the dust with 'Paprika,' his latest award-winning feature-length anime.

In the near future, an experimental device dubbed the "DC Mini" has been created which allows scientists and psychologists to access, record, and interact with people's dreams. Over the course of its development, a good natured doctor named Atsuko Chiba (voiced by Megumi Hayashibara) has been secretly using the device to counsel patients like detective Konakawa Toshimi (Akio Otsuka). Entering the detective's mind in the form of a girl named Paprika, Atsuko has been helping him deal with the nightmares that trouble his consciousness. However, when the DC Mini technology is stolen by a mysterious terrorist intent on using the device for evil, the dream realm becomes a very dangerous place. With the help of detective Toshimi and her colleagues, Atsuko/Paprika must enter the dark shadows of the terrorist's mind and stop him at all costs.

'Paprika' is a dense, visually stunning acid trip that only begins to make sense as it draws to a close. The story isn't necessarily confusing, but it does hold back every pertinent piece of information until the film has gained some momentum. Viewers who generally hate playing catch-up will despise this flick with every fiber of their being. Personally, I enjoy movies that drop me into the thick of things without a map. However, in this case I had a difficult time gaining my bearings because I was constantly bothered by the simplest questions. How does the DC Mini work? Why is it as dangerous as everyone says? What are the rules of entering and exiting the dream realm? What does the detective have to do with anything? Who is this Paprika chick?

To my relief, things eventually clicked and I realized 'Paprika' wasn't as nonsensical as I first suspected. Satoshi is interested in only one thing -- recreating the tone and atmosphere of a lucid dream. His scenes effortlessly bend reality and make it impossible to tell what's happening in the real world and what's taking place in the dream realm. When I stopped asking logic-based questions and began to accept the imagery and narratives of the dream realm for what they are, I began to genuinely enjoy 'Paprika' as a piece of experimental film, focusing on its complex, abstract themes rather than the literal constraints of its plot. By the time the credits rolled, I wanted to dive back in and give it another try.

That's not to say 'Paprika' is a great film. Satoshi relies on a series of avant-garde sensibilities that don't effectively define the nature of the film's real world. The conflict, urgency, and consequences of the DC Mini scenario have a difficult time gaining traction and are ultimately lost. I never felt as if I was engaged in a legitimate story -- instead, watching 'Paprika' is more akin to observing a piece of art that uses a paper-thin setup to justify its existence. Satoshi is so entrenched in his imagery that he arguably needed a more restrained storyteller on board to focus his tangential thinking. This problem is even more apparent after the first half of the film. The final act has drive and purpose, a definitive hero and villain, and a clearly defined direction. If the entire film had displayed hints of these three elements, 'Paprika' could've been much better. As it is, there are just too many mysteries cluttering the film to allow the story to live up to its potential.

In the end, 'Paprika' definitely isn't for everyone. It's daunting and extremely challenging, but at least it rewards patient viewers with stunning imagery and a thrilling final act. I'm curious to see whether later viewings of the film will make me fall in love with the story or simply grow weary of its impenetrable shell.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Paprika' is presented with a vibrant 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer that generally looks very good. The palette is gorgeous and tossed enough primaries at the screen to make my eyes water. The color fills are stable and never bleed through the linework, resulting in an image doesn't waver or shake, even when thousands of butterflies stream across the screen. Contrast is vivid and comfortable, blacks are perfect, and the source isn't bogged down by compression artifacts or other blemishes. Best of all, this is the first anime I've seen where the traditional animation blends almost seamlessly with its CG elements. Aside from the usual differences in the frame rates, the CG has been meticulously designed to match the hand drawn characters, allowing the the two animation styles to peacefully coexist, even under the increased scrutiny that comes with a high definition transfer such as this.

Alas, there are a couple of imperfections to report. First off, although line work is generally crisp and the image well-rendered, there are a few random shots that look a tad hazy, as if the picture was slightly out of focus. To clarify, I'm not complaining about any of the intentional softness used by Kon to enhance the film's dream sequences. Instead, the particular breed of softness I'm referring to seems to be a technical artifact of the transfer itself. For quick reference, watch Dr. Shima closely in the first act and compare the clarity of his close-ups over the course of several scenes. Secondly, like most traditional animation, the picture falls victim to persistent color banding.

Although these minor issues prevent 'Paprika' from soaring to quite the same heights as other high definition anime releases like 'Tekkon Kinkreet,' make no mistake -- all in all, 'Paprika' looks very good.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

'Paprika' features a pair of English and a Japanese language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround tracks (48 kHz/ 16-Bit/ 3.0 Mbps) that weave a convincing atmosphere for the startling dream realities of the film. The surrounds are used aggressively and are peppered with the slightest audible details. The dream parade extends across the entire soundfield, pushing every last tink and rattle through the rear speakers. Pans are swift and characters cleanly whoosh across the front of the soundscape. Accuracy is spot-on as well, and the effects placements create a convincing space for all of the sound elements to inhabit. Best of all, the dialogue is crisp and clear, offering two nice mixes that will please both dubbers and subbies alike.

The only downside to both TrueHD mixes is a by-product of the otherwise engaging musical soundtrack. When a melody is blazing along, it sounds great, using thumping, low-end bass hums and shrill, stable treble tones to establish a bizarre cacophony of sound. But when any character opens their mouth to speak, the volume of the music is drastically reduced. Whether intentional or not, the end result is distracting. Instead of relying on proper prioritization, the sound designers seem to scramble to reign in the music. Every time it happened, it completely pulled me out of the otherwise immersive soundfield.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The Blu-ray edition of 'Paprika' ports over all of the supplemental material from the concurrently-released standard DVD. Note that with the exception of the trailers, all of the features listed below are presented in Japanese with optional English subtitles.

  • Filmmakers Commentary -- First up is a dry, commentary with writer/director Satoshi Kon, composer Susumu Hirasawa, and one of the film's associate producers. The track livens up when the trio discuss philosophy and their own dreamscapes, but is otherwise dominated by an endless string of technical conversations. I wish the commentary had focused more on the bizarre imagery -- as it is, the filmmakers touch on the more startling moments but skip over the majority of the design work.
  • The Making of Paprika (SD, 30 minutes) -- Compared to the commentary, this documentary is a far more interesting look at the creation of the film. It deftly examines the original novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, the anime script adaptation, the animation, the casting, and the film's eventual bow at the Venice Film Festival. I enjoyed the biographies of Tsutsui and Kon as well as watching the two work together to mold the novel to fit its new cinematic environment. This is a humble and candid doc that kept me invested from beginning to end.
  • A Conversation About the Dream (SD 29 minutes) -- This chat between Tsutsui, Kon, and some of the voice actors is an unexpected treat. Instead of focusing on the creation of the film, the group discusses their reactions to the film itself. Paired with The Making of Paprika, this is an engaging companion piece that completely fleshes out the film, its interpretations, and overall impact.
  • The Art of Fantasy (SD, 12 minutes) -- This featurette hones in on the film's Art Director Nobutaka Ike and explores his unique designs. Although not as thorough as the two documentaries, this one adds further color to the genesis of 'Paprika.'
  • The Dream CG World (SD, 15 minutes) -- A semi-typical featurette that looks at the process used to combine the CG elements of the film with the traditional animation.
  • Trailers (HD, 8 minutes) -- Rounding out the package are a set of high definition trailers for 'Tekkon Kinkreet,' 'Resident Evil: Extinction,' 'The Lives of Others,' 'Spider-Man 3,' and 'Black Book.'

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

In addition to the standard supplements ported over from the DVD, this Blu-ray edition of 'Paprika' also includes a series of "Storyboard Comparisons" (HD, 3 minutes). This feature gives you the option of viewing the original drawings, storyboards, and paintings. Unlike most static storyboard comparisons included on home video releases, this one allows you to view the artwork side by side, individually, or alongside the corresponding scene from the finalized film.

Final Thoughts

'Paprika' will continue to split anime fans into two distinct camps -- those who love its bizarre imagery and those who despise its unyielding mysteries. As a Blu-ray release, this one boasts a vibrant transfer, impressive Japanese and English Dolby TrueHD audio tracks, and a healthy dose of supplemental goodness. Still, the film itself is a tough one to recommend outright. Unless you're already a fan of the film, you may be better served giving this one a rent before deciding whether or not it belongs on your shelf.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-2

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-Bit/3.0Mbps)
  • Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-Bit/3.0Mbps)
  • Spanish (Latin American) Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Chinese (Mandarin) Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Chinese (Cantonese) Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French-Parisian Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • English Subtitles
  • Spanish (Latin American) Subtitles
  • French-Parisian Subtitles
  • Chinese Subtitles
  • Portuguese Subtitles
  • Korean Subtitles
  • Thai Subtitles

Supplements

  • Filmmakers Commentary
  • Documenatries
  • Featurettes
  • HD Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • Storyboard Comparisons

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