Sunday, August 28, 2011

REVIEW: Paprika

パプリカ (Papurika)

Released: 2006

Satoshi Kon

Starring (voice talent):
Megumi Hayashibara
Toru Furuya
Koichi Yamadera
Katsunosuke Hori
Toru Emori

Running time: 90 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

As of this review’s posting, it is just a few days after the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of Satoshi Kon at the age of 47. Easily one of the most significant forces in both Japanese cinema and animation, he was known for such complex, imaginative films as "Perfect Blue," "Millennium Actress," "Tokyo Godfathers" and "Paprika," which, sadly, turned out to be his swan song. At the time of his passing, he was at work on a fresh project, "The Dreaming Machine," the production for which having been halted earlier this summer. While it is a shame that this film may never be fully realized, viewers can thankfully venture back into Kon’s filmography to see other examples of his longstanding fascination with dreams. Among them, "Paprika" certainly holds its own as a mesmerizing flight of fantasy.

"Paprika" is set in a future where great technological advancements have been made for dreaming – specifically a new psychotherapy device called the DC Mini that allows therapists to enter their patients’ dreams for treatment and recorders that enable dreams to be stored, viewed and analyzed. Three of the DC Minis are stolen, with Himuro, one of the technicians involved in its creation, considered a likely suspect. The team assigned to its recovery consists of Tokita, the giant, child-like genius who invented the device; the cool, professional Dr. Atsuko Chiba and their chief, Shima. Also involved in the case is Detective Konakawa, who is tormented by an unsolved homicide and painful elements of his past, and Paprika, a perky young woman who only exists as an alter-ego of Chiba in the dream world. As Konakawa is aided by Paprika in special therapy sessions, they and the others must race to recover the stolen DC Minis and prevent the cataclysmic consequences that could result from their misuse.

As many noted both last summer in the wake of "Inception’s" release and after Kon’s death, Christopher Nolan’s dream heist film shares quite a few similarities with "Paprika," which preceded it by four years. But while there are some common links – most notably through the machine that allows access to other people’s dreams – "Paprika" has a noticeably lighter vibe to it. Much of it comes from Paprika herself – indeed very much the polar opposite of Chiba, the pixie-like being pops up frequently when least expected and aids Konakawa and the DC Mini team with a perpetually cheery attitude. One of the film’s most intriguing qualities is the way in which it communicates that Paprika is a facet of Chiba’s personality. Through reflections and double imagery, the connection between the two characters is expressed in an extremely subtle, almost subliminal manner. "Paprika" also goes beyond "Inception’s" somewhat rigid presentation of dreams, instead diving headfirst into the wild, fantastical, physics-defying possibilities that compose the dream realm. The unknown culprit behind the misuse of the DC Mini is frequently represented by an absurd parade of walking appliances, statues, instrument-playing animals, robots and floats that noisily crashes from one dream to the next. Many times, Konakawa grapples with his conscience in a number of incredible scenarios, including a circus performance, a vine-swinging visit to the jungle à la "Tarzan" and a struggle on a speeding train straight out of a James Bond film.

These scenes and more help illustrate the film’s rather brilliant concept of dreams operating in a manner similar to movies. As Paprika explains, apparently dreams experienced in early REM cycles resemble experimental art films, while those had in later cycles resemble big-budget, mainstream entertainments. Later on, dreams are also compared to the Internet, and sure enough, one of the dream places where Konakawa meets Paprika is an online chat site called the Radio Club that becomes a warm, inviting bar where the two sit and drink. But it is clear that Kon prefers the link between dreams and movies, and throws in several irresistible nods and references, the best of all being a short lesson in filmmaking terminology delivered by a Konakawa dressed up as Akira Kurosawa.

Quite fittingly, "Paprika" bears a wonderfully cinematic style that shines through in the richness, color and detail of the animation, the smooth energy in which the film’s mystery plot coasts along and compelling manner in which the viewer is pulled into this incredible story about the merging of dreams and reality. While Kon’s "Perfect Blue" addresses similar subject matter using the claustrophobic dread of a horror film, "Paprika" is definitely more along the lines of a fantasy, conducting a more positive examination of how dreams and movies can impact one’s life. The triumph of this film and the abundance of creativity within it (not to mention its remarkable predecessors) make the sad loss of Satoshi Kon all the more resonant one year later.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog


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