Paprika poster (Image via Sony Pictures)
On the surface of it, psychotherapy sounds like a dull plot for a movie. Beyond Good Will Hunting and a handful of other dramas, there’s little interest in listening to someone talk about their problems in a comfortably appointed therapist’s office. Add in a healthy dose of science fiction, however, and you can get something wonderfully weird.
That’s the case with Paprika, a 2006 anime film written and directed by Satoshi Kon. This was Kon’s last film before his untimely death in 2010, which is a great shame. Kon was truly an artist with great respect for his genre. He also had a complicated and evolving relationship with female characters and how to write them. If nothing else, his female protagonists are interesting and complex.
The film is set in the near future, where a new form of psychotherapy allows doctors to enter their patients’ dreams. Dr. Atsuko Chiba begins to use the technology outside of her research facility, which is illegal (though she still uses it to treat patients). As “Paprika”, Dr. Chiba treats a variety of individuals, including a police detective and chairman of the research institute where she works.
Of course, this being a movie with a plot, things eventually go wrong. Through a series of increasingly strange events, dreams and reality begin to emerge, sometimes with dangerous consequences. Dr. Chiba/Paprika, however, is able to navigate the utter strangeness of this new world and restores order. She’s an interesting character, and one who is clearly intelligent and able to take on the reality-bending nature of her odd psychiatric situation.