Paprika [Book Review]

by: Jason Waddell

I’ve long regarded as Haruki Murakami my favorite author, ever since my high school English teacher assigned as to read Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, a novel with a heady mixture of magical realism, disturbing imagery and sexuality. I spent the summer plowing through his works, including the overly protracted IQ84, coming of age tale Norwegian Wood and collection of short stories The Elephant Vanishes.

I was looking to branch out and broaden my horizons, and solicited book recommendations from friends and family. I didn’t branch very far, as my brother sold me on the recommendation of Paprika, billed as a “surreal Japanese book”.

Yasutaka Tetsui’s Paprika follows female protagonist Atsuko Chiba, a psychotherapist who treats patients by entering their dreams through use of devices invented by her unsightly colleague Kōsaku Tokita. The two have been shortlisted for a Nobel Prize, to the ire of certain rivals at the medical institution.

The book unfolds as hospital drama, with the requisite animosity-filled board meetings and political jockeying. Battle lines are drawn. Although Atsuko Chiba is conducting therapy via the dream-entering devices, it’s not clear for much of the book that anything all that surreal is occurring.

Little by little things start to unravel. Therapists go missing and succumb to mental illness. Tetsui deftly cranks the action from a simmer to a rolling boil, as the membrane between dreams and reality begin to fade and disappear altogether. The mundane opening serves to set up the pandemonium of the book’s second act. Paprika‘s ending delivers absurd imagery and surrealism in droves, and, despite the slow opening, the book grows into a genuine “can’t put down” page turner.

Paprika captures the imagination, and has since been adapted as a feature-length 2006 anime film. Further, the novel served as inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s film Inception.

The book doesn’t share Murakami’s meandering pacing and plots, but for a “thriller” take on the surreal Japanese genre, look no further.

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