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ENTRY

Review: Paprika
April 21, 2013

Paprika
Yasutaka Tsutsui

Japanese literature has a strong vein of surrealistic, hyper-fantastical science fiction. Yasutaka Tsutsui's Paprika falls squarely in that genre. The riotous story takes place mostly in the Institute for Psychiatric Research, where the research focuses on psychotherapy through dreams and technology called PT devices. The combination of the two allows a therapist to enter patients' dreams to directly analyze their subconscious lives. This ability is groundbreaking, as in worthy of a Nobel Prize, but is also dangerous for both patient and therapist.

Atsuko Chiba, one of the Institute's top researchers, is increasingly at odds with the administration and other researchers. She and her close colleague, the corpulent Tokita, have been too successful, and haven't played the politics inherent in an organization of huge egos. But when a wealthy former client, Noda, is having relapses of his anxiety attacks, the Institute's chief administrator, Shima, has to ask for her help. Or rather he asks for the help of Paprika, Atsuko's thinly-disguised alter ego, who is known as the foremost "dream detective" in Japan.

As Paprika works into Noda's subconscious through his dreams, life goes awry at the Institute. Therapists who enter patients' dream are having their own psychotic breakdowns. Several PT devices, including the portable but powerful "DC minis," are missing. And most damaging, Atsuko's chief rival, Osanai, is making power plays to besmirch her reputation.

To help Noda, Paprika/Atsuko must dive deeper into his dreams and his subconscious. One of the missing DC Minis ends up in her possession and she uses that device to interact with him in his dreams. However, her rivals also use the device to further discredit her as well as violate her in the dream state. The line between dream and reality, subconscious and conscious, increasingly blur, and not only her reputation but also her life is increasingly in danger.

When two researchers are found dead, one connected to a DC Mini, Atsuko is a suspect. But did they die in reality or in a dream state? As another researcher explains: "The DC Mini has the function of repeated effect and side effect, effect and side effect. It makes you dream, then dream of waking, and your waking dream is so very true to reality that you think it is reality, then you fall into an ever deeper sleep, dream even deeper dreams, and so on."

Full of irony and hyperbole targeting the destructive side of ego, Paprika moves along at a frantic pace, with many characters, and I found myself having to back up more than a few times to keep the characters and plot straight. But it was well worth the ride in the end.

COMMENTS

Number of comments: 3
click here to add a comment

Jo Reed
Thanks! Sounds like a fun read. I like Kobo Abe's literary science fiction.

Gail
I didn't realize there was a book. I saw the animated movie some years ago. The sound track is good too. The theme song is Byakkoya no Musume by Susumu Hirasawa. I love it.

Todd
Thanks Gail, I haven't seen the anime version, but I will if I can find it!

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