Paprika (Papurika) — he said, she said — movie review — screener!
Posted on June 2, 2007 by Chris & Kris
Note: If you’re already a fan of anime and familiar with Satoshi Kon, skip to the third paragraph.
Truth be told, anime is no different than any other storytelling medium. The rabid otaku would like you to believe otherwise, but really, it’s just like everything else. There’s a vast wasteland of uninspired, tedious dreck, above which rises a small mountain of notable works. The majority of the forget-ables are children’s shows, much like what plays on the Cartoon Network or Saturday morning; endless serialized battles, or tales of consumerist collecting. Contrastingly, the mountain of notables is comprised of works that have actual substance; series and films with storylines intended for older audiences, many of whose subject matter would not even appeal to children.
Of these, a certain number of films actually make it to American theaters. These are the cream of the crop. Genuine animated works of art, evidencing a perfect synergy of kinetic action and storytelling efficiency. Whether telling tales of bloody action or exploring sci-fi metaphysics, these films are lean, thoughtful, and pack a punch strangely lacking from their live action counterparts. Classic examples include Akira, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Recently, entire families have enjoyed the works of Hayao Miyazaki. However, no Japanese director has seen more animated films reach American theaters than Satoshi Kon. Meticulously detailed, dangerously surreal, and immensely intriguing, his films are easily some of the best work in the business; Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and his Memories segment all demand multiple viewings in order to obtain a true appreciation. His latest, Paprika, only furthers that trend.
Adapted from the novel by famed Japanese sci-fi author, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Paprika concerns the age old battle between technology and the human spirit. Set in near-future Tokyo, a fledgling technology, dubbed the DC-Mini, allows psychotherapists to enter and view a patient’s subconscious state.* Currently in the research and testing phase, the little comb-like devices have great potential to help patients analyze and overcome lingering guilts, strange pinings, and other oddities hidden deep in their dreams. One such therapist is Atsuko Chiba. While deathly serious, and possessing an intimidating coldness on the job, her dream-state alter-ego/psycho-savior is contrastingly bubbly: the wide eyed, flirtatious “Paprika”. And she’s quite good. Near all her patients cite the benefits of Paprika (most even harbor not-so-secret crushes). But when a DC-Mini prototype goes missing, patients start exhibiting strange behavior. The thief, devoted to committing acts of psycho-terrorism, is able to enter and manipulate their unconscious state even while awake. And it gets worse. The unhindered access spurs the growth of a collective unconscious, affecting even those who have never undergone treatment. It’s up to Paprika to apprehend and stop the madness before it takes over the entire waking world.
If you’re a fan of Satoshi Kon, you know the drill. The narrative starts out as fairly straightforward, with clear divisions between the real and the unreal. As the film goes on, the line becomes blurred, swirled, and then thoroughly destroyed. The lapses into the surreal are filled with metamorphosizing landscapes, temporal barriers, and unhindered physical laws. They’re gorgeously twisted, alluring and dangerous. But they’re not just bits of brilliantly colored eye candy. Every element is intricately tied to a corresponding plot element. If you’re willing to seek out the connections – and it may take more than two viewings – they’re all there to be uncovered. The story is very dense and very adult, but for adventurous viewers it will undoubtedly prove rewarding.
Like Millennium Actress before it, Paprika contains a plethora of classic film references. Roman Holiday and Tarzan the Ape Man both factor into some of the main scenarios, and keeping with the Kurosawa love in Millennium Actress one character even manifests as the director in his dreams (you can tell by the hat and sun-glasses). But the references this time aren’t limited only to live action. There are also plenty of nods to classic anime, from Akira to Mononoke Hime to Wicked City (complete with nastiness down the throat. Uber-ugh.). Rounding out the package are the film’s score, handled by the same folks who performed the Paranoia Agent theme song.
According to an IMDB commenter, in a Q&A after the Hawaii Film Festival screening Satoshi Kon stated Paprika will be his last foray into the realm of dreams vs. reality. Sad, I must say, but Satoshi Kon is one that I have no doubt will continue to surprise us. As it is, Paprika is a stunning swan song, and one I am eager to experience again.
*Oddly enough Kris and I just watched The Cell the night prior to the Paprika screening which is also a similar plotline and a rather unappreciated film.
Chris astutely covered synopsis et al, prepping me (and you) for psychological review. I’ll make it brief because I believe the beauty of Satoshi Kon’s work and Paprika is discovering the charmed critiques yourself.
Stoically robotic scientist Atsuko (“Atsuko” can have multiple meanings, but I’ll bet in this case it’s ironically where “atsu” = “warm”) has an impenetrable shell, disallowing anyone access. Screenwriting supplements scold her not to be so cold. It is only fitting she possess a persona named Paprika, whose personality resembles the vermillion spice: firy, freespirited and flirtatious. She even has red hair and clothing for goodness sakes. Despite their differences, Atsuko and her alter-ego share the same altruistic life goals, making her the most humanistic character of the bunch.
Her tubby compatriot Tokita is hyper-intelligent with an id overrun by immaturity. At first I thought his name was fittingly Okita, which means “to awaken”; unfortunately I have no idea what Tokita means.
Another coworker’s name might actually segue to and from “maturity”. Osanai is a term describing a child purging its baby teeth, but could also mean “to breed”, “seed” or “to plant”, which also holds ties to Paprika’s plot. Virile Osanai is a willing captive in the lair of a villain who seeks to eke out the strength of his youth, and therefore Osanai attempts his own capture, trapping his target Atsuko in a disturbing lepidoptery scene. Lepidoptery suits him, as it can be akin to collecting dreams (as a noun as if they were objects) and only a careless optimist could confuse the tangible with the ethereal. It is even evident in the naïve scientist’s speech: while others tongued technical terminology, he laughed lofty lyrical lilts, almost delivering poetic opus.
It wouldn’t be a true Japanese drama without a little unrequited love action; Osanai wants Atsuko, Tokita wants Atsuko, so who does she want? In one of the most touching and downright beautifully engaging scenes I’ve seen, she will finally lose herself to emotions and reveal her veiled infatuation. I tell you, I was simultaneously smiling and crying; I loved it so! What I also loved were patches of the music used in the dream parade sequences. While Kon’s love of what I can best describe as 90s gay techno is grating at times, some selections are incredibly powerful, off-kilter drones that grow on you over time. Hmm, much like his main characters.
SF Bay Area Residents: Paprika opens on June 8th, 2007
About the Authors