Saturday, August 14, 2010


It is hard not to be decked by this film. The first few minutes blast past with such mind-bending, visual élan that it could almost, in itself, stand as an elliptical and enervating short subject. PAPRIKA, the latest anime film from Satoshi Kon (PERFECT BLUE, TOKYO GODFATHERS, PARANOIA AGENT), loosely based on the serial-novel by famed Japanese sci-fi writer Yasutaka Tsutsui, is pure visual ambrosia. While the movie is sure to leave you scratching your head even as you careen from one 2-D, 3-D, CGI animated set-piece to the next, there’s no doubt the movie is one benevolent bully dressed to the cinematic nines. Whether anime/fantastic cinema buffs accept it as a psyberpunkish cautionary tale regarding the conflict of unfettered aspirations vs. soulless technology, or as a definitive statement on the endless possibilities of dreams and cinema, will depend on the viewer’s ability to deal with the overpowering “spice” of the end product’s neuron-battering bravura (this is very much a “head movie”).

Dreams are a mystically pure place where one can live out their fantasies without giving in to the limits of the real world. Countless individuals have tried to analyze, re-enact, and even control their own dreams. What if you could take what’s in your head when you sleep and upload them to a computer? Opening the doors to a realm so unparalleled could bring to life your wildest fantasies and your most terrifying nightmares. Would this be amazing? Or incredibly dangerous? Paprika is a movie that invokes this scenario, combining fantasy dream worlds with a high tech invention that allows people a window into their dreams. Paprika stands teetering on the edge of reality, with the deep ocean that is the dream world beneath her.

With a straightforward narrative that, like a lucid dream, carries enough odd detail to hint at surreal depths, Paprika teases. The titular character is a dream psychologist who is also a dream: she taps into patients' minds, finding centers to their labyrinths. By day Paprika is Atsuko, clinical psychologist and genius (so proclaimed by a jealous coworker) who, along with Tokita, a ginormous, childlike engineer, perfects the DC-Mini, a device which allows direct access to dreams.

Paprika is special. She doesn't need the device to be in people's dreams. Maybe she's just the prototype for a skill set. Maybe dreams are connected already, and she just rides the wave. She uses her power as therapy to gain insight into the meanings of her patients' recurring nightmares.

However, a stolen DC-Mini prototype is being used for a different purpose: to spread an insanity sickness, which causes near-suicidal delusions in the form of waking dreams. Before they can rescue the world from a collective nightmare which threatens all mankind, Paprika, Atsuko, fat Tokita, and Detective Kogima must come to terms with their desires, and with the meanings of shared dreams.

This is certainly one of the most beautiful-looking Anime' features I've ever seen. The bizarre and surreal imagery really does seem like a nightmare come vividly to life on the screen. To my grateful eyes, with the disturbingly violent and sexual images - as well as constant flashes of an otherworldly circus parade featuring household appliances, stuffed animals, and a giant geisha doll that lets out a deathly, ear-shattering shriek - "Paprika" further ensures that this is animation strictly for adults and not children.

Paprika is a paean to movies. There are references to Tarzan, From Russia with Love, Godzilla, Vertigo, and Spirited Away among many others. Even the musical score is a surprise – it's electronic of course, but without the usual coffee-house angst. The quality of the animation is excellent and the detective, Konakawa, has a plain-looking mug that expresses surprisingly subtle emotions without resorting to the squishy-squashy exaggerations that are typical of Disney.

The Tokyo-trashing climax culminates in a mysterious confrontation between masculine and feminine dualities. There are other confrontations too; between maturity and immaturity, aspiration and disappointment, heart and intellect, and a fascinating argument between Dr. Chiba and Paprika about which of them is in charge. At no time in this movie is the distinction between reality and dreams ever clear, and when it is all you leave confused but grinning from ear to ear.

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