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Paprika Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Terrorism takes on a new name when a device that lets you go into someone’s dreams is stolen.

What They Say:
Dr. Atsuko Chiba is a genius scientist by day, and a kick-ass dream warrior named PAPRIKA by night. In this psychedelic sci-fi adventure, it will take the skills of both women to save the world…

The Review:
The release for this has basically gone all out in covering their bases for a worldwide release. The original Japanese mix is included in an uncompressed PCM version as well as a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 language done at 640 kbps. Where the space on the disc pays out is in that there are another eight languages on here including a commentary. They’re all done at 640 kbps as well so they aren’t hogging up a ton of space and there’s enough bandwidth to cover it and the PCM track. We listened to the PCM track for our primary viewing session and it’s a very solid mix though it’s generally just to the forward soundstage. There are things thrown to the rear speakers during the big moments but the bulk of the film is dialogue and ambient effects so it isn’t getting too much of a workout. The bass level is rather good throughout though which makes up for the lack of rear activity.

Originally in theaters during 2006, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and with a resolution of 1080p. The film has been encoded with the MPEG-2 codec but it’s on a dual layered disc so there is enough room to breathe. The bitrate for it is typically in the mid to high twenties with some spikes higher and overall it’s a great visual treat. The colors pop out with a real vibrancy to it, some of them are almost shocking at times. The animation is very fluid and well represented here as it’s free of break-up and blocking. There are a few minor issues to be found though, generally early on, in that some of the solid backgrounds ” such as the hotel room we first see Paprika and Kanokawa in, exhibit some MPEG-2 curlies. They aren’t terribly distracting even on the 70″ set but it adds a bit of motion to the background that the rest of the film is generally free of.

Using a standard Blu-ray case, the cover art is incredibly busy and hard to discern at first but is a perfect fit for the film. It’s essentially a close-up of Paprika’s face with her hair framing it but the flesh is all made up of the various dream images that are key to the films storyline. They’re done with a softer hue in order to blend together better and the overall effect is quite good yet unsettling at the same time. The back cover is fairly simple in that it provides a few shots along the top of the film and spends most of its space with a brief summary and a rundown of the numerous technical features and bonus features. The bottom is rounded out by the usual production credits and a few logos for all involved as well as the three tiered region coding block which indicates that this is an all region release. No film specific inserts are included with the release but the reverse side has some blue filtered artwork on the left of Paprika and scenes from the film.

The menu design for the release is decent but it isn’t the smoothest it could be. The top level menu is one that’s nicely active in that it has the parade moving about through the center while various static pieces of Paprika in her different forms are obscured around it in the background. The navigation strip along the bottom, which is identical to the pop-up menu, is laid out well enough but it’s clunky and slow in a couple of ways. The first is that it is rather slow in actually bringing up the submenus and moving about them. The second is that there isn’t any option to turn off the sound it makes when you make a selection. The language navigation is a bit awkward as well since it spills over into two screens and isn’t as intuitive as it should be. During playback, the menu loads up well enough but it suffers from the same issues.

The special features for this release are simply incredibly well done overall. The first thing that’s very impressive is that they’re all subtitled ” in your choice of English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese. Now, I can’t vouch for how accurate any of these are outside of the English one but it’s easy to imagine with them all being of similar lineage that it’s not a huge chore to translate across multiple romance languages. The first extra on the release is a full length commentary by Satoshi Kon which goes into all sorts of interesting little details about the film itself and what went into the production. Kon has never been the best at commentary tracks which can make this a bit difficult to watch at times but the inclusion of the track and having it subtitled is excellent.

The big feature on the disc is a thirty minute behind the scenes making of piece that goes into the same kinds of things as the commentary but has more life to it with a look at the staff and the actual film itself. The next sizeable extra is “A Conversation About the Dream” in which the voice actors and Kon have almost something akin to a morning talk show event where they cover the film. This runs nearly thirty minutes long as well and provides plenty of time to see how much more interesting Kon is in this format, as is Megumi Hayashibara. The “Art of Fantasy” segment runs about 12 minutes long and is a bit more technical in that it goes into how they breathed life into the backgrounds of the film and the numerous locations with the art director.

Another featurette included here deals with the dream world itself and covers what went into making that and breathing life into it from the director of photography’s point of view. It’s a bit technical at times but it covers more of the thematic elements and the approach used for it. The last three extras are all related in a way as they provide various scenes, such as the parade, the ruins and the skin slitting, and allow you to do a storyboard comparison, look at the original drawings and the character paintings. This is a feature that’s decent and reminiscent of how DVD has to do it but could be do much better with a picture-in-picture format. Each of them is fairly short so overall they don’t amount to too much but they are interesting to check out if you’re curious about that particular part of animated filmmaking.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Satoshi Kon certainly earned himself a reputation over the course of his career in a number of circles. While not widely loved in the anime community outside of Japan, he became a well known creator even if his works don’t appeal to the mainstream. His films garnered attention in the art house world and among film enthusiasts who love foreign cinema. But he also made inroads into the general population as well which continues to surprise me. Satoshi Kon’s works manage to break outside of the fandom world and are surprisingly accessible considering the kind of works that he creates.

Paprika had made some good noise throughout its art house run in the US as well as the various showings at film festivals around the world. The film’s release in Japan on Blu-ray was something of a disappointment as it was made solely for that audience. With this release, being able to shift between eight or nine languages and thirty odd subtitle tracks, the range of possibilities is rather staggering and should fit any film enthusiasts’ needs. The best part was that all of these options didn’t impact the actual presentation of the film itself.

Paprika owes plenty to films that have forged through similar ground before as well as numerous anthology science fiction TV series. The premise revolves around a device called the DC Mini that a company has created that allows them to see, record and interact with people’s dreams. The idea is that it can help in psychological treatment of patients that require extreme help. The device, created by some rather interesting folks within the company, is something of an obvious Pandora’s Box in that you can see how it could be used for less than honorable endeavors. As usual, you have the doctors and scientists that only see the good in it and blow off the potential problems, mostly because they have access safeguards that they’re putting into it.

Of course, it helps to actually put the controls in but that didn’t happen in time as someone stole three of the boxes. Thus starts a storyline that spins out of control as the key players on the DC Mini team try to recapture them as blame falls on one of their own who has gone missing. At the same time, there is a police officer who is struggling with his own issues that knows Dr. Shima, the elder doctor on the project. The officer, Konakawa, has been working through the issue on the side with Shima and is aware of the device but has kept it secret as there would be all sorts of regulatory and possibly criminal issues with its use before authorization. With his help, the mystery of what’s going on starts to unravel both for who stole the devices but also for their own personal issues.

Paprika plays a bit with alternate personalities, mostly with the lead character in that the dream version of Paprika is actually one of the key doctors on the project, Atsuko Chiba. The disparity in personalities isn’t too strong but there is definitely a greater freedom in how Paprika lives and handles her dream-life in comparison to Atsuko. Not unlike other Satoshi Kon films, the parallels are drawn in interesting ways, both in the story itself but also in the animation. The opening sequence is rather engaging on a second run as you start to put together more of the clues that make sense after seeing the entire film and identifying who certain people are.

Though the story is both predictable and weird, especially if you’ve seen other films that use similar ideas such as Dreamscape or the Cell, it’s overall presentation is trademark Satoshi Kon. There is a great sense of realism to it both in character design and in the backgrounds which gives it a real sense of presence. The film is able to really play with things however due to it involving the world of dreams. The circus aspects that come into play have an incredibly rich palette of colors to it that just pops off the screen. It also does some fun nods to older movies, such as a few scenes from Tarzan and even a nod towards From Russia with Love. Paprika unfortunately doesn’t fill out her dress like Daniela Bianchi. The dream concept works well for tying in various things such as films, amusement parks and more and this lets it really have an open range for what it can do. Toss Paprika through a few different “windows” and the animators have free reign to go wild.

In Summary:
Going back to Paprika after a few years, and after Inception as well, was definitely an interesting experience. While I can understand the reasons why some are vocal about similarities and so forth, both films stand well on their own and in a way complement each other. Rather than rancor, I just wanted to enjoy this work for what it is, and I did. There are plenty of trademark Kon moments throughout Paprika and the realm in which he works is reminiscent of other pieces, notably Paranoia Agent, but the end result is a weird, predictable yet fascinating piece of work. People who haven’t seen any of his prior films will likely find this far more engaging than those who have followed his career but in the end it’s another solid entry within the films he was able to bring to fruition.

Japanese 5.1 LPCM Language,Japanese 5.1 Language, French 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, German 5.1 Language, Czech 5.1 Language, Italian 5.1 Language, Spanish 5.1 Language,Polish 5.1 Language,French Subtitles, English Subtitles, Arabian Subtitles, Czech Subtitles, Danish Subtitles, Dutch Subtitles, Finnish Subtitles, German Subtitles, Greek Subtitles, Hebrew Subtitles, Hindi Subtitles, Italian Subtitles, Norwegian Subtitles, Polish Subtitles, Swedish Subtitles, Turkish Subtitles, Hungarian Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, Croatian Subtitles, Slovene Subtitles, Icelandic Subtitles, Bulgarian Subtitles, English SDH Subtitles, Commentary track with the director; music director and associate producer,Three storyboarded scenes,Making of Featurette,A conversation about the Dream Featurette,Art of fantasy Featurette,The dream CG world Featurette

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: A+

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 27th, 2011
MSRP: $19.95
Running Time: 90 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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