Sunday, July 8, 2007

Paprika: When entering the theater, watch out for blown minds

I'm blogging from the wilds of Portland, Oregon, figuring I should get this out of my system, since I've been wanting to talk about it for a couple weeks now:

2007, Japan
Directed by Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon's movies are generally a head trip, from the psychosexual freakiness of Perfect Blue to the shared filmic memories of Millenium Actress (I haven't seen the TV series Paranoia Agent, but it seems to cover some of the same ground). He took a bit of a detour with Tokyo Godfathers, a down-to-earth story about three homeless people caring for a baby. From what I understand, that one didn't go over too well with his fans, so he's returned to the dream/mindscape material for his newest film, Paprika. But it seems he decided to go all the way, with a story about entering and sharing dreams, with dream imagery breaking out into the real world and threatening to destroy everything. It's a hell of a trip, with the recurring image of a parade of refrigerators dancing to music played by a group of frogs wielding musical instruments, preceding a float stacked high with creepy Japanese dolls. And while we see that image several times, it's far from the creepiest thing about the movie.

The plot concerns a device called the DC-Mini, which allows one to enter and record someone else's dreams, intended to be used for psychotherapy. However, somebody from inside the medical company has stolen and hacked the device, and is using it to enter the dreams of random people and drive them insane. That means some scientists who have been working on the device (accompanied by its morbidly obese inventor and a police detective who has been having some psychological problems involving dreams) must try to find the culprit, entering the dream world and trying to stay alive. Hilarity and wackiness ensue.

One of the main complications stems from one of the scientists, Atsuko Chiba, who has a separate personality called Paprika, who lives in the dream world. At least, I think that's how it works. I wasn't exactly sure what their relationship was, but it appeared that Paprika would appear when Atsuko entered the dream world. But sometimes Paprika seemed to show up in the real world separate from Atsuko, so I'm not sure exactly what was happening there. Maybe a sign that the barrier between the real world and the dream world had been breached. Anyway, while Atsuko is very straight-laced and serious, Paprika seems to represent the more spontaneous, free-spirited side of her personality, and she's the one who ends up doing much of the action-oriented dream adventuring.

And then we get then ending, which features all manner of craziness, including, as many anime movies do, a giant, rampaging spirit monster. I don't know why that shows up in so many anime movies, from Princess Mononoke to Dead Leaves to End of Evangelion. I dunno, it's something I've noticed. Anyway, it's a highly satisfying story, and I was still trying to wrap my brain around it when I left the theater.

And I haven't even mentioned the visuals, which are incredible. It's really some amazing animation, with shots like a man dissolving into a cloud of butterflies, a hallway collapsing as a man is trying to run down it, or a guy shoving his hand under a woman's skin to peel away her outer personality. The whole thing is a visual feast, with so many wonderful details that I certainly want to see it again, possibly even in a theater, in order to more easily spot some of the tinier images hidden in the corners of the frame. It's a beautiful film, and I can't recommend it enough (to those who aren't averse to this sort of thing).

Hey, I managed a post while on vacation! We'll see if I can do another one or two before I get home and resume regular content (and I'll have a lot to catch up on). I did see a few other movies that I should probably cover, so watch for those if you're interested. Regular content should resume next Wednesday or Thursday. Be there!


  1. One theory I've heard before is that the monsters and apocalyptic endings to so much anime and manga reflects the Japanese working out the ramifications of the atomic bombings in WW2.

  2. That does make some sense, I guess. I'm really not sure about the psychological stuff, but it's a trend I've noticed. If anybody else has any other theories, feel free to chime in.