by HELEN GEIB
An anime feature by the always interesting Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers), Paprika is one of my favorite films of this year.* The quality of the animation is superb and the story and voicework both very good. But what really made me love the movie is its defining spirit of good-humored playfulness.
Like a lot of science fiction films, Paprika has a fairly complicated premise and a fairly simple story. The premise is that scientists have developed a device to enter, participate in and manipulate dreams. The effect is rather like an interactive virtual reality where the reality is a vivid, hyperactive, constantly fluctuating dream state. The dreamer and other people can move through the dream, affect it and become trapped in it. Some people enter the dream as themselves and others travel through it as alter egos representing a wished for self.
Designed for therapeutic use, the device is stolen and strange (and very strange) things start to happen. The plot concerns the efforts of a motley group – some of the scientists who developed the device and a detective in dream therapy – to recover it.
Paprika explores classic science fiction themes of altered memories, fractured identity, psychiatric manipulation, modern technological alienation, scientific hubris, and more. Throw in themes of the consequences of societal pressure to excel and conform (of particular resonance in Japanese culture), and Paprika is as intelligent and challenging a science fiction film as you’ll find. Though the themes are serious, the treatment is lively, exciting, often funny, and always entertaining.
Animation proves the ideal medium for the material: no dream is too fantastical to be realized by the animators. The concentration of imaginative detail in the dream sequences is breathtaking. It came as no surprise that my self that loves anime would enjoy Paprika, but I was surprised that my self that loves classic movies would enjoy it nearly as much. The detective character is a movie lover and frustrated filmmaker; his dreams and his virtual portal between the dream world and the real world take form as scenes from half-remembered classic Hollywood movies. Kon uses the medium of the detective’s dreams to draw a love letter to cinema.
*Paprika was released theatrically in Japan in 2006 and in the U.S. in 2007.
Other new releases this week: BRATZ, First Snow, I Know Who Killed Me, Mr Bean’s Holiday, The Namesake, Skinwalkers, Vitus, Waitress, Who’s Your Caddy?