Paprika – Yasutaka Tsutsui

The BookDepository

 Translated from the Japanese by Andrew Driver

I bought this book because I saw the following phrase on the cover:

A Japanese master to be ranked alongside Haruki Murakami

I hadn’t heard of the author, but I’m afraid I have no self control when I see the word Murakami – I just have to see if it is anywhere near as good as books like Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I’m really pleased with my impulse buy – Paprika is as weird as anything Murakami has written!

Paprika is a science fiction novel, originally published in Japan in 1993. The book focuses on a group of scientists who have invented a machine which allows them to enter the dreams of others. The team use their invention to treat mentally ill patients, particularly those with schizophrenia. Everything goes wrong when one of the devices goes missing and is used as a weapon to turn people insane.

This book is very strange! Much of it is set within peoples’ dreams where anything can happen:

Atsuko was trying hard to vanquish the demons of sleep. “It’s just like a dream. A dream. No. This is a dream.”
Yes, I’m sure it is. ” The reporter suddenly sprouted a cow’s head, which flopped down low in front of her. The weight brought her to her senses with a sharp intake of breath, but the cow’s slobber still hung from her mouth. “Do excuse me. I’ve only eaten one helping of rice porridge this morning.” And she slurped the slobber back into her mouth.

Unfortunately most of the people have violent or sexual dreams and so scenes like the one above are quite rare. The tone is kept light so I didn’t find the book disturbing, but I know this sort of thing isn’t for everyone!

The plot was gripping throughout, but it wasn’t as thought provoking as I’d have liked. The book seemed to focus on the battles between good and evil instead of how much our dreams tell us about ourselves and to what extent we can be manipulated through unconscious thought.

I loved the way Japanese mythology was prevalent throughout this book and the fact that  you could never predict what was going to happen next.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys reading bizarre Japanese fiction.

Have you read any of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s other books?


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32 Comments

  1. Dan Holloway says:

    Well the word Murakami on the cover would have got me too! It’s a shame it focuses on generalities like good and evil – the great thing about Murakami is that with all his absurdity he is incredibly insightful about us as individuals. You’ve definitely sold it though :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, Exactly! This book lack’s Murakami’s subtle observations of society and has more in common with a thriller. I think you’d enjoy the typically Japanese weirdness of this one, but I don’t think it will knock Murakami off the top spot.

  2. Annabel says:

    This one will definitely go on my wishlist – weird, SF, mythology – all things I like. Thanks.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, You can add science to that list too ;-) I hope that you enjoy it!

  3. stujallen says:

    Not read this ,sounds different I may pick it up I ve not read as many Japanese books as I want this last while but intend to focus for a week next year on Japan so may choose this ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I don’t think this is a good Japanese book to start with. If you haven’t read many Japanese books then you probably need a gentler introduction than this very weird one – save this for the end of your week!

  4. Sandy says:

    I’d rather read strange than boring or predictable. I still haven’t read Kafka or Wind-Up Bird yet. I will next year when I forego challenges and ARCs! Ha! I’ve been eyeing this book for awhile now in your sidebar. That cover is bizarre.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I really hope that you read some Murakami soon as I can’t wait to see what you make of him.

      The cover is bizarre, but the strange thing is that a women never vomits strawberries in the book. It doesn’t seem to have anthing to do with the plot!

  5. Bellezza says:

    Like you, I’m passionate about Japanese writing, bizarre Japanese writing, and anything Murakami. I bought this a few years ago when I read Tanabata’s review, have forgotten about it, and now am longing to pick it up after yours. What a strange premise, to explore dreams, and yet how promising to be ‘other’. (I tire so easily of the every day common novel which seems to abound.) I don’t know much about Japanese mythology, but I still eagerly anticipate this book thanks to your great review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, It is nice to read something so original as the every day world can never match the exciting things that can happen in dreams. I hope that you enjoy reading your copy. I look forward to reading your review.

  6. Bellezza says:

    p.s. I see you’re getting ready to read Lonesome Dove. I loved that book, but probably because my father was the last American cowboy I knew. Always a hero in my mind! ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, I’m supposed to have read about half of it already, but am very behind with Amy’s read along. I hope I can catch up next month and finish it wil everyone else at the beginning of December. I’m sure I’ll love it :-) It is lovely to know that you think your father is a hero!

  7. sakura says:

    I feel sometimes that some of the Japanese books that get translated into English is precisely because they are so bizarre, so I’m a little put off by it. However, I love books that have bits of mythology in them so I think I may give this a try at some point. Like you, I seem to have a weakness for anything Murakami. Have you seen this interview with Jay Rubin who’s currently translating 1Q84? http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201010260276.html

    1. Jackie says:

      Sakura, I did see that interview – it is already in my link post for the week :-) I thought the interview was very interesting – especially the bit about Murakami writing in a very Western way so it was easy to translate. I sometimes wish Murakami would translate his own books. I am looking forward to reading 1Q84. I hope it lives up to my increasing expecations.

      It does seem that most of the translated Japanese books are a bit weird. I would like to read some which are a bit more normal, but for now I’m happy to work my way through the bizarre ones.

  8. Steph says:

    Something about this book seems really familiar… Either I’ve read about it somewhere else, or maybe it’s been made into a movie? I really love the premise – sounds so cool – but I agree that anything that deals extensively with dreams runs the risk of going too far in the weird direction (where things are weird simply for the sake of being weird). It does sound fun, though, and as always, I would like to read more Japanese authors!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, It has been made into an anime and Lu (below) says it is amazing, but I hadn’t heard of it before I read the book.

  9. That cover is fascinating! It sounds like the perfect time of year to read a creepy book too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I’m afraid you won’t find any strawberries in the book, but it does give an impression of the weirdness of the book!

  10. Lu says:

    This one was made into an anime that’s supposed to be amazing (and just as bizarre). I’ve heard that it’s not entirely faithful to the book and mostly just takes the concept, but this sounds like one that would almost be better on film. I’ve wanted to read this and see the movie for quite some time! Thanks for reminding me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lu, I can see that it would be better on film. I think I’ll have to seek out a copy and watch it.

  11. Amy says:

    Hmm… this sounds interesting, but maybe a bit too heavy / graphic for me. I’ll avoid for now :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I think you do need a heavy tolerance for weirdness to enjoy this book. It isn’t for everyone!

  12. Brenna says:

    Wow! This sounds unlike anything I have ever read. The cover is also quite… interesting. Thanks for the review! I’m thinking I should read something by Murakami sooner than later.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, You should ensure Murakami creeps up your TBR pile – he is an amazing writer :-)

  13. She says:

    This sounds fantastic! Even with the somewhat heavy dreams, I think I am going to wishlist this one. It sounds somewhat like Inception, actually…

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I haven’t seen Inception yet, but am looking forward to watching it when it comes out on DVD – I look forward to comparing the two.

  14. Kathleen says:

    This is one to put on my list when I am wanting to break away from my usual reading genres and try something new. I know it is hard to believe but I have yet to read any Murakami either!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I highly recommend that you try Murakami before this one. There are so many big name authors that I haven’t tried yet and the list seems to get longer all the time!

  15. mee says:

    I second Lu. I’ve been meaning to watch the anime for some time because I heard good things about it. I don’t think I’m going to read the book, but I’ll watch the anime!

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, It is really good to know that the anime is well regarded. I hope I can get hold of a copy soon.

  16. JoV says:

    Not sure if this is for me….. Maybe I should read his “Hell” instead.

  17. Violet says:

    I’ve been looking for something different to read for the Japanese Lit challenge. This sounds interesting. Will put it on the list. Thanks for the review.

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