Paprika is about two psychiatrist who create a machine capable of delving into people's dreams. Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui tells the story of a dream detective named Atsuko Chiba who, while working on high tech dream technology for Japan's Institute of Psychiatric research, ends up developing a machine called the DC mini, which allows for psychiatrists to essentially enter their patient's dreams.
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In the world that Tsutsui has created, the DC mini's legality and terms of usage is still being arbitrated. The scientists who developed it—Chiba and her partner, an overweight man with a brilliant mind but lackluster social prowess named Kosaku Tokita—did so to diagnose psychic ailments in a patient's brain. To be a ‘dream detective', however, and dive into a person's brain in search of information or diagnosis, is still considered illegal. For this reason Chiba develops an alter ego named Paprika in order to carry out her dream diving under the supervision of the JIPR.
In the first half of the novel, Chiba's aid is requested by Doctor Torataro Shima, the Institute administrator, to clandestinely treat an old colleague of his, the industrialist Tatsuo Noda. Since the dream technology advanced by the DC mini is still considered unregulated and unlawful, Chiba, obeying the edicts of the Institute, dons freckles and a wig, adopting the persona known as Paprika. Noda has been experiencing crippling anxiety attacks affecting his performance at work. Paprika, using the DC mini, delves into his consciousness to understand the root cause of his mania, a process she repeats throughout the book in various degrees.
Things start to go sour within the JIPR in the second half of the book when it's revealed that Morio Osanai, an oblate fellow psychiatrist with a chip on his shoulder, ends up becoming both jealous and obsessed with Chiba. After he and the chief chairman psychiatrist, a power hungry man in search of accolades, particularly the Nobel Peace Prize, named Dr. Inui Seijiro, steal an experimental new version of the DC mini (one which doesn't require a clinical settings to use), the entirety of the JIPR ends up succumbing to manipulation and insanity.
Chiba ends up reassuming her alter ego Paprika in order to keep the outbreak of dream logic from spreading. She is unsuccessful in keeping it within the bounds of JIPR, and it surges into Tokyo, driving the entire city insane. Gigantic illusory images become visible to the naked eye, such as phantoms, hobgoblins, and a blood-soaked griffon destroying a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. The worst of these manifestations are the products of Inui's dementia. Frustrated by their inability to thwart Chiba, Inui instructs Osanai to go to her apartment—where she is dreaming with the DC mini in order to counter the assault—and rape her. In a troubling and philosophically ambiguous scene, he ends up succeeding in doing so.
Eventually, with the help of Tokita and Noda, however, Paprika/Chiba end up driving back the outbreak. Inui is discovered in a basement of the hospital attached to the JIPR. The DC mini had embedded itself in his head, and, in attempting to suck all of Tokyo into his dream of self-grandeur, he died emaciated, alone, and embittered.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like in particular the second half of the book, where dream logic starts to bleed into reality and the constructs of the narrative become surreal.
Best scene in story:
I very much enjoyed when the three headed griffon creature crashed the illusory Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. The imagery was wild.
Opinion about the main character:
I don't like how passive the main character, Atsuko Chiba, is. She seems strong, but a little empty in parts. I assume this is the fault of the author for a lack of characterization.