Paprika ★★★★½

Another absolutely excellent film from director Satoshi Kon, the man behind Pafekuto buru (Perfect Blue). Whereas that was a fantastic psychological thriller about fame and identity, this is a surreal action story about dreams.

A team of dream specialists along with a brilliant genius have invented a device that allows you to enter into someone else's dreams and live them out in detail. But when one of the devices is stolen, it threatens to drive people insane and blur the lines between dreams and reality. Dream investigator and navigator Paprika helps the team to try to stop it before it is too late.

Sound familiar? There is no doubt that at all that this inspired Christopher Nolan's Inception, just like his previous film Perfect Blue inspired several films by director Darren Aronofsky, including Requiem For A Dream (which has an exact shot lifted straight from it which he even paid royalties for) and Black Swan. But whereas Inception is more about dreams as a notion or a concept, this explores the surreal and emotional quality of dreams, and expertly weaves between dreams and reality, in a colorful, enticing, frightening kaleidoscope of inspired creativity and excellent storytelling.

The film throws you into the plot immediately, and has colorful, fascinating characters all with their own conscious and subconscious motivations, and dare I say absolutely exquisite animation. This film has such a brilliant hold on its environments. They are rendered in incredible detail, color, and with the most vivid textures and even lighting that they often feel even more real than live-action film environments. It's hard to explain, but I often feel the emotional context of these environments, as if I am actually there, which you rarely do with other films, not even animated ones. That grounded, meticulous approach to creating a believable world helps you, along with the clever storytelling, when the film soon becomes more surreal and complicated, with dreams and real life coalescing into a thriller-adventure which is both playful and adult at the same time.

Satoshi Kon and writer co-writer Seishi Minakami manage to deliver text, subtext, real world imagery and dreams, wrapped into visual metaphors and fantastical surprises, without ever losing hold of the audience or making the film too complicated. It also never loses pace or becomes too bogged down by exposition, which is no small feat. With an absolutely razor-sharp vision and confidence they explore every facet of this delightfully frightening and exciting rollercoaster of vivid imagery, which still keeps the plot intact and intelligible every step of the way. It's a testament to what you can achieve when you take the medium of animation seriously.

The only downside at all to the film is that most viewers won't be ready for it. I think you have to work your way up if you are unfamiliar with Japanese animation of this caliber. I'd start with Ghibli films, then check out something like Akira or Ghost in the Shell and finally Perfect Blue and Paprika. It can be a tad overwhelming at times, so you kind of have to prepare yourself for the fact that it won't follow expectations. I dare say it surpasses them.