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Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Paprika (original 1993; edition 2002)

by Yasutaka Tsutsui

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Caveat lector: like many other reviewers, I loved the movie too much to review this novel completely on its own; my views are inexorably influenced by the late, great Satoshi Kon's animated film.

Having read some of Tsutsui in his original language (though not this entire novel, mind, and keeping in mind I'm a non-native speaker), I feel confident enough to say that his strengths are not in passionate or flowing prose — as others have pointed out, his writing style tends towards bullet points — but rather imagining sci-fi worlds: taking a "what-if?" and elaborating, painting a living picture of a given situation. With particular attention to Paprika, what he does not paint well, at least when it comes to long-form writing, are his characters. They come across as flat, and often muddled; all the time, I found myself completely confused by their motives and actions.

It's also important to note the English translation is probably not as good as it could be, at times preposterously stilted — though I write so with some misgivings, as I doubt I'll have the patience to get through the entirety of the Japanese original on my shelf any time soon to be absolutely certain I could do better.

With that said, I think the novel does succeed in one key aspect: its exploration of concepts and motives influenced by real-life psychology, psychiatry, mythology and philosophy. Granted, the movie does this too, and well, but the novel is able to go broader (and in my opinion, more realistic) in terms of dream imagery, and into more depth on its interpretation. Descriptions of psychotic delusions, e.g. the description of Himuro's "destroyed personality," are often chilling and betray the author's fascination with the nature of the human psyche. As much as I enjoyed (perhaps in a sort of childlike way) Kon's colorful "parade of madness" interpretation, Tsutsui's prose was actually more effective for me in this regard.

Severely scarring the experience for me, however, was the book's rampant and flagrant misogyny and homophobia. For being such a supposedly strong, intelligent woman, Atsuko Chiba seems quite ready to submit to base desire and/or the dominance of her male colleagues to the detriment of her own objectives, often with the only visible justification being her "feminine nature." Her line of reasoning in the rape scene with Osanai was confusing and horrifying, and I'm still not sure what to think about certain parts toward the end of the book. The details of these may have been injected into a better-written story to increase its sex appeal for the audience it was originally written for; at any rate, it undoubtedly detracts from the story as a whole.

Hitting closest to home for me personally, however, was the unapologetic portrayal of homosexuality as vain and contemptible. This aspect may not speak to Tsutsui as a person with active hate, but more a default view in Japanese society at the time; nevertheless, as a champion of homosexuality as aesthetically positive identification, these parts were, to say the least, disheartening to read. Both heterosexual and homosexual desire and love were dealt with much more subtly and thoughtfully by Kon.

Halfway through the book, I almost gave up out of frustration with the above points. But the second half actually redeemed the story enough that I didn't feel I had completely wasted my time. Regardless, in an exclusive choice between the two, I can't think of any circumstance I wouldn't recommend Kon over Tsutsui.

Verdict: this book is best read as the basis for Kon's masterpiece Paprika. It elaborates on some themes that might not have been as feasible for the medium of film... but in its own right, it's no masterpiece. ( )
  adlpr | Jan 14, 2016 |
Kosaku Tokita and Atsuko Chiba have been short-listed for a Nobel Prize for their work in developing and using psychotherapy devices allowing an analyst to access and even enter and affect a patient's dreams. But it seems that someone at the Institute for Psychiatric Research may be intent on sabotaging their chances. Chiba, in the guise of Paprika, has been using the device to treat high-end businessmen and is asked by the Institute's president to help one of his friend's who's been suffering from a severe anxiety neurosis. As the technology is still only in the development stage then its use outside of the lab is illegal and with the increased press scrutiny may provide the opportunity the saboteurs require. When 5 of the 6 newest prototypes go missing maybe they also have the means as well. Can Chiba/Paprika scuttle their plans and prevent a catastrophe that misuse of the new devices may bring?

I came to this book through the anime movie (unfortunately Satoshi Kon's last directorial feature film) and I'm glad I experienced them in that order. The film really helped me visualise the more surreal moments of the story towards the end of the book when dreamscape and reality merge. There are two main issues I had with this book. The first is what I assume is probably the translation. It is often stilted and doesn't flow all that naturally. The second, and less forgiving, is how much the use of sex and rape is used as a plot device. Pretty much all of the male characters want to have sex with Atsuko Chiba in one form or another, whether it's as a willing partner or not. Despite that, there's still a decent story in there with some interesting concepts that make the reader think. Because of this I would be willing to give the author a further try especially when another of his titles (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) has also been adapted into an acclaimed anime movie. 3★'s ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Nov 15, 2014 |
Tedium, broken up by excitement I couldn't understand. ( )
  picardyrose | Jun 24, 2013 |
The movie is significantly better but I finished the book because I LOVE the movie. The book just wasn't quite as fantastic or vivid or imaginative and 100 times more rapey. Seriously, almost every man in the book either tries to rape Paprika or ends of having sex with her. I'm not a prude but the threatened rape at every corner got old fast. But I'm glad this book exists, so the movie could be created. I'm also glad Satoshi Kon made the changes that he made. ( )
1 vote yolaleah | Apr 4, 2013 |
Amazingly good. Tsutsui plays with your mind yet you don't feel robbed, you feel all the ups and downs as the story comes and goes and gets confusing, yet you will also understand somethings that the characters didn't and you will be left with questions that they never asked.
I would surely recommend it (yes, not the best review, but to give a full extent review, for me, would be to try and spoil a flavor that only Tsutsui could leave in your mouth). ( )
  littlesparrow | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Kosaku Tokita lumbered into the Senior Staff Room.
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"Widely acknowledged as Yasutaka Tsutsui's masterpiece, Paprika unites his surreal, quirky imagination with a compelling, haunting narrative. When prototype models of a device for entering into patients' dreams go missing at the Institute for Psychiatric Research, it transpires that someone is using them to manipulate people's dreams and drive them insane. Threatened both personally and professionally, brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba has to journey into the world of fantasy to fight her mysterious opponents. As she delves ever deeper into the imagination, the borderline between dream and reality becomes increasingly blurred, and nightmares begin to leak into the everyday realm. The scene is set for a final showdown between the dream detective and her enemies, with the subconscious as their battleground, and the future of the waking world at stake"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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