Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

There was something so compelling about the cover of Paprika that I had to read this book. It is horrifying and alluring at the same time, this picture of a woman who seems to have indulged in her desires, yet the juice of the berries resembles blood to me more than anything else. The text inside is every bit as haunting as the cover.

Atsuko Chiba and Kosaku Tokita are shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Their work is in the field of dreams, wherein Atsuko acts as a “dream detective” who can intrude into people’s dreams in order to help them make sense of their psychoses. She is able to do this in part with Tokita’s invention of DC Minis. Conical devices, no larger than a centimeter, they are attached to the dreamer’s head in order to “collect” the dreams. As with any invention, however, something designed for good can also be turned toward evil.

Osanai has plans to deliver the facility to his mentor, Seijiro Inui, by making the administrator of the Institute, and the two candidates for the Nobel Prize, mentally incompetent. When he steals some of the DC Minis for his own use, the line between reality and dreams begins to blur. Soon, the lives of the characters become confused. They no longer know if what they are experiencing is reality, their own dream, or someone else’s dream, as they flutter between all three.

This is a fascinating look at the power of dreams, for who of us have not endured that terrible feeling of being unable to awake from a frightful dream? Or worse, living a life from which we wish we could wake?

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49 thoughts on “Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui”

  1. This sounds like such a trippy, awesome novel. I'd read it for the cover alone; I kind of love how the contents of the book (dreams! the blurry line between dreams and reality! all stuff that i love), the cover, and the title all suggest to me a different type of story. I've read only a handful of novels out of Japan, but Paprika sounds like a fun place to begin exploring Japanese lit some more.

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  2. I have just added it on my wishlist. Each day I love Japanese Literature more and more! And your review made me think of “Inception” and one of Murakami's novels, “Sputnik Sweetheart” 🙂

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  3. I picked this up from the shop a couple of weeks ago mainly due to the cover – it is a very compelling image.

    I also love my dreams – whether they are nightmares or good dreams. I lucid dream a lot and I've always been fascinated where my dreams take me. So that was an added interest when I read the description of this book.

    I'm really looking forward to reading this now and hope that I will get around to it sooner rather then later.

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  4. I bought
    “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” his latest novel…this will be my first read of this author. After reading your review I wish I had bought “Paprika” :))

    I have not read “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” but the title is promising.

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  5. I was drawn to this book by the cover too. It was a bit weird for me though and I'm not sure I really understood it all. In fact I think this is the weakest Japanese book I've read – the rest have all been so good!

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  6. Already own one by this writer, but this is in my wishlist, It was a toss up between this & the one I chose to which I'd get first, The girl who leapt through time, won because I could get it for my Kindle. But I was originally sold on this writer because of the Ballard comparisons.

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  7. Bermuda onion, you would not find this book upsetting, in my opinion. It's really more of a fantasy/mind game kind of thing in the second half at least. A fun ride, not to be taken completely seriously.

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  8. Ellen, I think you nailed it when you said a 'trippy' novel. I've never taken drugs, but I have to admit I wondered if the author had been under some huge hallucinogen at some point in his life in order to conjure up some of the plot. That, or a very vivid imagination!

    I should have put a blip from the back cover which stated that Tsutsui resembles Murakami. Which he does in the somewhat bizarre aspects of the story.

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  9. Fiona, I'm really fascinated by dreams, too. One of my favorite dreams was when I was speaking fluent French. I mean, I wasn't just dreaming I could speak fluently, I really was. It was a wonderful gift until I woke up. I've had six years of it, and some years living there, but I never could speak it as well as in my dream.

    All that to say, it's a good book. I liked so many parts of it.

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  10. Farmlanebooks, I think the problem of which you speak (if I could put my interpretation on it) has to do with how a great plot, and interesting characters, just became so convoluted in the end. It was stretched to such an extreme that I found myself skimming quite a bit during the last third of the book. Still, I enjoyed it overall.

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  11. Parrish, trust you to have a reference point for the Ballard comparison. I had to look him up, when I saw him written on the front cover. I have to say, that blurb was quite accurate in pertaining Ballard to Tsutsui. Now I'm wanting to read something by him! Let me know if you like the Girl Who Leapt Through Time. (Why do I want to call it The Girl Who Leapt Through Fire? 🙂

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  12. Edgar, that's a good question. I find the books I like to read in these ways:

    a.) through a genre I adore such as classics or Japanese literature

    b.) through book reviews I've read from people's blogs

    c.) through not choosing from the best seller lists.

    How do you choose your books?

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  13. Suko, it's interesting how Paprika is just a name for the role that Atsuko takes on in her dream detection. I can't see how it has any relation to the spice, though. The cover is just amazing…

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  14. i'm intrigued by the “manic JG Ballard” statement on the cover; though i get what you mean about that image. will have to check this one out, thank you for the wonderful review!

    ~L

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  15. I've become more and more interested in the power of images to communicate, and book covers are one of the best places to find very successful and very unhappy examples.

    I confess, if I saw this book in a store and knew nothing about it, the cover seems to communicate a very different story than you describe. I wouldn't even pick the book up to explore further, because of the (false) assumptions raised by the cover!

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  16. This is one that everyone seemd to be reading a couple of years back 🙂 Funnily enough, the cover would probably put me off more than persuading me to read it – it screams chick-lit to me 😦

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  17. Shoreacres, it's so true how the cover of a book can affect us. I'm interested in how the same book can be re-released with a different image, and sometimes that's all it takes to cause me to pick it up. I suppose there's a whole research team which decides on which illustrations/covers/images to use…

    The cover does seem anomalous to the story. I'm not completely sure why the image of her in apparent depravity is consistent with her as a 'dream detective', other than that there were moments when she seemed to be so caught up in the dream world it was as if reality had slipped away. So perhaps this picture is of her in confused state. To say the least, although it seems to have sexual and violent overtones.

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