Film Review

Reviewed by Lyle Sylvander

(Summer 2007)

Satoshi Kon’s latest film Paprika, is a feast for the eyes and intellect, a combination not commonly found in mass-marketed

His previous feature, Tokyo Godfathers, was dramatically static and its earthbound narrative undoubtedly imprisoned the active
imagination seen in the earlier Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue.  Paprika, on the other hand, frees Satoshi from gravitational
reality as he explores the nether reaches of unconscious dream states and nightmares.

Like his compatriot Hiyao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle), Satoshi Kon proves the superiority of Japanese hand-drawn
animators over all others.  The surreal, eye-candy visuals put the product coming out of Hollywood to shame.  Those annoyingly cute
CGI animals from the West Coast simply don’t hold a candle to the marching toasters, drumming frogs, evil dolls and walking Shinto
gate (seriously!) that populate Paprika’s universe.  Indeed, the animator has larger and more serious things to say about the influence
of pop culture on the human psyche and its confluence with more traditional and universal primordial images – subject matter rarely
explored in commercial cinema.

Based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, the plot hinges on a high-tech gadget called the “DC Mini,” which enables doctors to record and
witness patients’ dreams.  One is stolen from the psychiatric hospital where it was invented and most of the film follows the attempts
by Dr. Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara), Dr. Kosauku Tokita (Toro Furuya) and detective Toshimi Konakawa (Akio Ohtsuka) to
recover the machine and find the culprit.

While this set-up is straightforward, the film takes drastic twists and turns. It turns out that the DC Mini can do more than just record
dreams as the thief uses the device to invade dreams of others.  As the dream/waking life boundary becomes more and more blurred
and eventually shatters, the everyday world becomes encapsulated by one large collective nightmare.  While there are no doubt
unlimited Freudian and Jungian motifs and themes to be found, there is too much information to absorb in one sitting.  Although
repeated viewings would present intellectual benefit for the academically inclined, it is best to observe the outstanding animation
and surreal narrative without making too much sense of it.

As one of anime’s most cinema-savvy auteurs, Satoshi fills Paprika with unlimited filmic references.  It opens with a Fellini-esque
circus sequence, complete with sinister clowns and doppelgangers.  When Konakawa escapes from this, he lands in a film-noirish
cityscape populated by gangsters,  He flees once again and transforms into Tarzan (with an obvious allusion to the Disney version),
swinging away on tree vines.  His real-life persona is even modeled on the classic hard boiled detective type (a la Dirty Harry).
Similarly, the nerdy Dr. Chiba’s avatar is the athletic Paprika, a variation on countless “vigilante women” found in anime.  At one point,
Paprika sprouts wings like Tinkerbell, but is soon pinned to a table like a butterfly in an insect collection. In another sequence, Dr.
Chiba and Konakawa visit a restaurant where each floor resembles a movie theme.  The Tarzan jungle reappears and there are floors
dedicated to romantic movies, suspense films and James Bond.

Satoshi seems to suggest that the movies (particularly those from Hollywood) have so colonized our minds, both in their conscious
and unconscious states, that their influence can no longer be expurgated.  Furthermore, the film pulsates with a sense of unease, as if
the melding of our minds with pop culture and technology has disrupted our sense of moral values.  Satoshi’s most searing indictment
occurs when the heads of uniformed schoolgirls turn into giant mobile phones.   They take photos of kneeling salary men who are
peering up at their skirts and shout “let’s capture the moment!” with high-pitched glee.

This dark universe is not without its silver lining, however.  Paprika and Konakawa exhibit an awareness of their inner demons and are
able to harness an inner morality that anchors the surrounding chaos.  By bombarding our sites with a  cacophony of beautifully
surreal hallucinations, Satoshi also brightens this world – the underlying tension between the attractiveness of the images and their
underlying threat invests the film with an aura of fascination.

Whatever one thinks of this film, one will not soon forget it.

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