Creator: A Madhouse Production
Director: Satoshi Kon
Genre: Psychological Drama/Sci-fi
Length: 90 minutes
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+ Intelligent, literate script
+ Gorgeous animation
+/ New Age score
Satoshi Kon's animated films are intelligent and thoughtful. However they may not be everyone's cup of tea. If your favorite series is InuYasha, Dragonball Z, or Pokemon you probably won't enjoy Paprika, there isn't much action in it. However if you enjoyed any of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, Akira, the anime of Isao Takahata, the films of Alfred Hitchcock or even the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, you may enjoy Kon's take on psychology, dreams, and even movies. It is sad and mind boggling that American animators, although capable and talented are not allowed to create films as sophisticated and intelligent as the works of Satoshi Kon.
4.5 out of 5 · Highly Recommended
Paprika Anime Movie Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 11/12/2007
While Hollywood animation companies are mired in schlock-y comedies aimed at the coveted family audience, acclaimed anime director Satoshi Kon has been producing anime features that touch on ideas undreamed of by his American counterparts. Specifically, Kon's films have delved into the world of the psyche, exploring dreams, fantasies, obsessions, and the very nature of reality. Heavily influenced by the "Superflat" art movement, Kon's films often contain layered and biting critiques of the peculiarities of Japanese pop culture. If Andy Warhol, Philip K. Dick, and Alfred Hitchcock collaborated on an animated film with Ralph Bashki, the resulting project might approach a Satoshi Kon film.
Set in the near future, Paprika postulates a world where it is possible to explore the unconscious thoughts of others through a machine called a DC Mini. When one of these devices is stolen, it is up to Dr. Atsuko Chiba to find the thief by entering the thoughts and dreams of others searching for clues.
The story begins with a circus. While the crowd is enthralled by the clowns and acrobats, Detective Toshimi Konakawa is searching for an unnamed suspect. His actions are in turn observed by the ringmaster, a man that Konakawa refers to as a "friend". Suddenly he finds himself in cage at center ring, surrounded by circus performers who all have Konakawa's face. Apparently we are in one of Konakawa's dreams or perhaps a nightmare. Just as the various circus performers are about to overwhelm Konakawa, he is rescued by the intervention a young woman who calls herself Paprika. A fight ensues and the scene transitions between scenes reminiscent of a spy film and a bar fight from a western.
Konakawa awakes in his apartment where his dreams have been monitored by Paprika. He's disoriented and a little surprised that he saw her in his dream. Paprika explains that this is all part of the process: she's been using a device known as the DC Mini to explore and study his dreams. She compares the dreams of early REM sleep with art house independent films while dreams later during sleep are more like blockbusters. As Paprika leaves, Konakawa asks if he can see her again and she gives him a business card with her name Paprika on one side and what appears to be a website address on the reverse.
The next morning, Dr. Atsuko Chiba and the team of researchers working on the DC Mini project are thrown into disarray when they discover that one of the devices has been stolen. There office is rife with rumors – a young rogue therapist named Paprika is using the device for unauthorized therapy or it was stolen by some sort of desperate terrorist for unknown nefarious purposes. The situation grows suddenly worse when the Chief of the team begins spouting nonsense, goes berserk, and then throws himself out an upper story window. When Dr. Chiba and her team hook the Chief up to a DC Mini they learn that the nonsense phrases he spouted before throwing himself out of the window correspond to a patient's dream that has somehow become lodged in the Chief's brain. As the team watches the dream they are shocked when one of the characters in the dream morphs into Himuro, one of their co-workers.
The mystery deepens as they arrive at Himuro's apartment. He isn't home so they resort to breaking and entering. Himuro's apartment is an Aladdin's cave of electronic gear, robot toys, dolls, doll parts, and odd photos. While exploring the room, Dr. Chiba follows a doll identical to one in the mysterious dream into a tunnel decorated with children's drawings of robots. The tunnel leads Dr. Chiba to an eerie deserted amusement park (What is with the Japanese and amusement parks?). She spots the doll on one of the rides and begins to climb the railing separating the ride entrance from the walkway. Suddenly the amusement park fades away and Dr. Chiba realizes with horror that she is actually climbing over the balcony railing at Himuro's apartment.
Show More Later, as the team members discus their predicament, Tokita, the device's inventor, likens Himuro's actions – placing people's dreams into other people's heads to terrorism. It could be argued that it is but what does Himuro want? Terrorism doesn't work if the supposed terrorist never makes any demands nor takes responsibility. So far, Himuro hasn't done either. The team members also reason that Dr. Chiba was especially susceptible to what be called a "dream attack" because she has spent more time using the DC Mini than any other team member. It is likened to anaphylactic shock; Dr. Chiba may actually be "allergic" to dreams. Their discussion is cut short by the news that the Chief has taken a turn for the worse.
The scene shifts to the dream at the center of the mystery. The Chief, dressed as an emperor, is riding on a float surrounded by dolls and toys. He is the centerpiece of a creepy toy parade heading for an unknown destination. When Paprika arrives to rescue the Chief, she is briefly taunted by Himuro. Paprika realizes that if she doesn't hurry, the Chief will die without ever waking from this nightmare. In a moment too racy for most American animation studios to handle, Paprika gives the Chief a literal blowjob, inflating him like a balloon until he explodes – shocking the Chief awake.
Later, when Dr. Chiba and the Chief discus the incident, the Chief is very grateful for Paprika's rescue – if he had remained in the dream much longer her surely would have died. Dr. Chiba tells him that she will pass along the Chief's gratitude. One of the interesting details of the film is the way the screenplay plays with Paprika's identity. She seems to be Chiba's alter ego but she occasionally seems to have a life of her own. Dr. Chiba warns the Chief not to tell anyone that he has recovered from Himuro's attack – in light of the supposed terrorism, the Chairman of the company is likely to call for the suspension of the DC Mini project but with the Chief in the hospital the board of directors won't be able to vote on the project. Their conversation is cut short by a call from Detective Konakawa. The characters in this movie seem to always have their conversations cut short by phone calls. As it turns out, Konakawa and the Chief have Paprika in common.
Konakawa is supposed to be working on his latest case but he is too tense and restless to pay attention to it. Instead he logs onto radioclub.jp, the website on the back of Paprika's business card. It turns out to be a virtual bar of the sort from a 1950s film noir. He meets Paprika in a back room; she compares the Internet to a dream calling a place where the mind goes to "vent". Konakawa tells Paprika that he knew the Chief back in college. Since many of the images in Konakawa's dreams come from old movies, Paprika asks him if he and the Chief used to watch a lot of movies in college. Konakawa states flatly that movies don't interest him. Paprika declares that she loves movies and leads Konakawa to a row of movie houses. When she asks what he wants to see, Konakawa angrily shouts that he doesn't like movies. The doors of the theaters slam shut.
Meanwhile, the terrorist claims two more victims and the chairman of the company shuts down the DC Mini project. Working up a sweat while dismantling his equipment, Tokita takes off his lab coat; Dr, Chiba notices his T-shirt has the same logo as the amusement park from the dream she experienced while searching Himuro's apartment. Tokita leads Chiba to the park, explaining that it was one of his favorite as a child. Small but popular in its day, it hasn't been in business in several years. During her search of the park, Chiba is almost crushed by Himuro as he falls or perhaps jumps from the top of the Ferris wheel; she is saved when Paprika warns her of the danger. A close inspection of Himuro reveals DC Mini strapped to his head. He is apparently a victim of the same nightmare that he inflicted on everyone else.
Show More Eventually, as the investigation continues and the clues leading to the true perpetrator are uncovered the situation grows direr as various dreams begin to merge into a single collective dream ruled over by a self proclaimed guardian. As the dreams grow the anaphylaxis associated with the DC Mini also grows at a geometric rate and the waking and dreaming begin to merge. Meanwhile Detective Konakawa begins to work through his own problem dreams and with the aid of the bartenders at radioclub.jp soon comes to the realization that once upon a time he did enjoy films; enough to make an experimental cop movie with a high school friend, however he didn't have the confidence to see the project through to the conclusion and left to his friend to finish. His friend had just been accepted into film school but was terminally ill and died before completing the film. It has been this guilt that has haunted Konakawa for decades; giving him a variety of movie themed nightmares. As this realization dawns on Konakawa he also discovers that Paprika is caught in the final confrontation with the story's antagonist and comes to her aid.
Films that blur the line between fantasy and reality as they explore the nature of the two are nothing new. Where the works of Satoshi Kon are unique are in the strength of his characterizations, his visual imagination, and his critique of contemporary Japan. The strongest character in Paprika is the central character, Dr. Atsuko Chiba. In the real world, Dr. Chiba is serious, level headed, and analytical; she hides her soft-spot for Dr. Tokita behind a veneer of criticisms – he's too childish, a geek, he overeats, he puts people in danger with irresponsibility. In the dream world, Chiba takes on the persona of Paprika a carefree teenager who helps psychotherapy patients find answer their own answers psychological trouble. Tokita is a genius, no question. However, he often displays the emotional maturity of a child and often fails to grasp the implications of his inventions. At one point he states that he doesn't understand "grown-up stuff like ethics and morals". In the film's dream sequences he is depicted as a giant wind-up toy robot, the cute kind that sparks moves around on clockwork legs. The other characters in the story are no less multi-faceted and realistic. The one exception being the film's primary antagonist; when the other characters finally realize who he is, rather strangely for a Satoshi Kon film, he is depicted as a mad man bent on protecting the dreams from those he sees as terrorists such as Paprika.
Visually, while the similar film The Cell is content depicting the twisted fantasies of a homicidal madman, the dream images found in Paprika are a wonder to behold. Each frame of the dream sequences is bursting with flowers, toys, dolls, animals, and other dream denizens, each rendered in beautiful and vibrant colors. Even as the dream sequences do get more disturbing as the villain's sinister plot unfolds it is through the subtle use of color, light, and sound rather than the use of grotesque images. Even the villain's nightmare world is beautiful – filled with plants and butterflies.
As in all of Kon's films, Paprika is layered with many jabs and critiques of the pop culture saturated modern world. Interestingly, some of the film's most pointed critiques seem to be aimed at himself. Detective Konakawa, who at first denies his interest in film, is a failed filmmaker thoroughly engaged with the language of film, he makes a number of references to filmmaker's techniques that turn out to be clues to his psychological state. Also when he visits radioclub.jp one of the bartenders is voiced by Satoshi Kon himself. And perhaps most pointedly, towards the end of the movie, when Konakawa goes to the cinema for the first time in ages, posters of several of Kon's earlier films are clearly visible. Paprika states early in the film her enjoyment of movies. Scenes throughout the film are also reminiscent of other films including the surreal comedies of Fellini, the Tarzan films of Hollywood's Golden Age and even James Bond style thrillers. Konakawa's own unfinished cop movie even seems similar to the films of "Beat" Takeshi.
Satoshi Kon makes the type of animated films that one wishes Hollywood animators would produce: thoughtful, intelligent films aimed at literate audiences. There may be a place for family comedies but in an era where American multiplexes are saturated with films that are little more than eye candy and retreads of previous successes there seems little room for creativity, originally, or genuine wit. Not to suggest that every American animator or potential animator should attempt to imitate Kon's style, a dozen Paprika clones would be as bad if not worse than the half dozen films based on penguins that seemed to come out this year – but they should take a lesson from him and remember that animation isn't just for children and that it is an art form where creativity and originality should count for something.
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