‘It is man’s responsibility to control science and technology”–The Chairman
“The dense forest turns into a shopping district. The 24-bit eggplant will be analyzed!”–Victim of the DC-Mini
It is hard not to be decked by this film. The first few minutes blast past with such mind-bending, visual élan that it could almost, in itself, stand as an elliptical and enervating short subject. PAPRIKA, the latest anime film from Satoshi Kon (PERFECT BLUE, TOKYO GODFATHERS), loosely based on the serial-novel by famed Japanese sci-fi writer Yasutaka Tsutsui, is pure visual ambrosia. While the movie is sure to leave you scratching your head even as you careen from one 2-D, 3-D, CGI animated set-piece to the next, there’s no doubt the movie is one benevolent bully dressed to the cinematic nines. Whether anime/fantastic cinema buffs accept it as a psyberpunkish cautionary tale regarding the conflict of unfettered aspirations vs. soulless technology, or as a definitive statement on the endless possibilities of dreams and cinema, will depend on the viewer’s ability to deal with the overpowering “spice” of the end product’s neuron-battering bravura (this is very much a “head movie”).
The breathless prologue, set to composer Susumu Hirasawa’s bouncy, irresistible score, hurls us into the dreams of noirish haunted detective Captain Konakawa (Akio Ohtsuka), the dream imagery shifting breathlessly from a sinister circus (with a nod to BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) to TARZAN serials, to a spy sequence, to a romantic scene from the 1953 ROMAN HOLIDAY, before ending in a surreal, nightmarish chase. Konakawa is, in fact, having his anxiety neuroses treated by a peppy, fearless gamine named Paprika (Megumi Hayshibara), a “dream detective” aided by an (as-yet unapproved) piece of psychotherapy tech, The DC Mini.
The plot proper (which bears some similarities to Wim wenders’ 1991 UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD, Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER, and the WILD PALMS mini-series) reveals that “Paprika” is the dream-avatar of the alluring but icy Dr. Atsuko Chiba (Hayshibara again), who works at the Foundation for Psychiatric Research. She and the rest of the DC-Mini team, including the grossly obese childlike creator of the device, Dr. Tomika (Toru Furuya), and Chief Shima (Katsunosuke Hori), are appalled to learn that two of the headsets have been stolen: even worse, security codes have not been programmed in. The device, created as a therapeutic aid by which physicians could treat patients through their subconscious dreams, can now be used as a weapon to control the dreams of others from afar (“Implanting dreams into other people’s heads is terrorism!” Tomika indignantly declares). Compounding their search for the offender is the knowledge that a colleague may be responsible for the theft. It’s not long before their co-workers, victimized by the “dream terrorist,” begin to lose their marbles.
As Atsuko/Paprika, Tomika, and Chief Shima, plunge in and out of each other’ s dreams attempting to discover the identity of the terrorist responsible for the dangerous collective dream threatening to subsume humanity , Konakawa discovers that his own dreams (chasing an elusive fugitive he never caught) might have tangential impact on the case. To complicate things further, Chairman
Inui (Toru Emori), who has been resistant to the development of the DC Mini (he is mouthing pithy platitudes like “there is always conceit and negligence behind misconduct”) is eager to pull the plug on the project.
The mind-boggling imagistic feast on display, epitomized by Kon’s surreal dream parade of Shinto statues, flute-playing frogs, appliances, giant geisha dolls, umbrellas and all manner of machines and bric-a-brac is a gorgeous, iconic image: it succeeds, helped by Hirasawa’s aural vortex, in balancing the right combination of sheer awe and terror. On one level, the image stands as a pure expression of the collective unconscious, yet, with its blend of the atavistic and contemporary, is it also a sly criticism of Japan’s fractious identity? A case could be made that it is just that: Kon, in one of his previous features (MILLENIUM ACTRESS) underscored this point by having his characters dive in and out of films that portray various epoch’s in Japan’s history.
The mix of awe and horror is also nicely encapsulated in the sheer mania of the scene where Chief Shima breaks from a serious dialogue on the stolen DC Minis to indulge in a lunatic monologue including lines such as: “Even the five court ladies danced in sync to the frogs’ flutes and drums!” He then caps this nonsensical rhapsody by crashing through the top floor window of the facility (he’s unharmed). Brief as it is, it’s a glorious, manic masterpiece that contrives to be funny, terrifying and exhilarating.
The film also makes the spot-on connection between dreams and movies, which makes sense as Film is the medium that bears the closest comparison to dreams. Captain Konakawa, who serves as the audience identification point, dreams in terms of various film genres, yet, due to his own internal traumas and a past, tragic friendship, can’t no longer enjoys movies (something that Paprika considers less than healthy). When he’s plunged into the disturbing circus venue of his reoccurring dream/nightmare, Paprika, dressed as a clown talks to him in cryptic camera composition terms, telling him he has “crossed the line of action” and “needs to narrow the line of exposure. This is Panfocus.”
This all ironically ties into Tomika’s assertion that those who implant dreams into other people’s heads “are terrorists.” After all, what is Film but the pursuit of planting dreams in other people’s heads? If the supporters/abusers of the DC Mini are “terrorists,” then the whole process of making films is a kind of consensual terrorism arranged between director and audience. The crackling culmination of this point comes as Konakawa, emerging triumphant from his “dream film” runs through the wall of a minor villain’s butterfly-hung “Sanctuary Room” to save Paprika/Chiba: Konakawa’s decision to “Finish His Movie” and in fact, become the hero, is mirrored by Chiba’s decision to reconcile her Chiba/Paprika selves. The seamless juxtaposition of disjointed dream imagery and movie mechanics is one of the movie’s high-points.
In addition to that, the movie makes telling points by addressing the connection between dreams and the Internet when Konakawa visits a cyberspace bar to compare notes with Paprika. Much like the main characters’ dream avatars, the Internet allows the user to create alternate personas and fantasy lives that may or may not mirror their true identity: cyberspace allows the psyche unlimited freedom to reimagine itself. (Consider the twit you run into on YouTube).
Paprika raises this question in her dialogue with Konakawa: “Don’t you think dreams and the Internet are similar? They are places where the respressed conscious vents.” Does the sanctity of the subconscious survive if technology, in the form of the Internet or DC Mini usurps that pristine dream state? That said, the film’s dizzying, sprinting mixture of hand-drawn and 3-D animation and CGI, is a staggering achievement. It’s hard not to physically cheer when Kon rips through a hyperreal action set-piece in which Paprika, trying to escape the Dream Villain’s tentacle barrage, runs into an office, jumps into a painting of The Sphinx and Oedipus, turns into the sphinx, is brought down by the spear of a villain who transforms into Oedipus, drops into the sea, changes into a mermaid, flees only to be swallowed by a anthropomorphic-faced whale, is expelled through the blow-hole as a doll-like figure, only to land into the middle of the dream parade. Beauty and horror zoom past the iris in bright primary colors, and it’s a testament to Kon’s total mastery that the viewer barely has time to think about the holes in the plot.
The movie is rich in the smallest details: check out the terrific credit sequence, with Paprika’s face reflected in a series of mirror shots in various expressions of disgust to a come-on; the fall of rain-drops on an auto’s windshield, making a set-piece of a simple two character dialogue. Is the movie at times too slick, too loose, and too philosophically opaque for its own good? Well, yes. The main villain declares: “The dreams are horrified that the safe refuge is destroyed by technology.” The argument is clear: that the dreamer loses the purity of the dream when science intrudes. Yet, isn’t the villain doing the same thing that he accuses the “terrorists” (Paprika, Tomika, Shima, etc.) of doing? The cure is as bad as the disease, and it’s confusing when, after the bad guy has apparently been dispatched, he resurfaces as a dark colossus bent on devouring Tokyo with his dream-delusion.
It’s hard to really get a fix on Paprika: to what degree does Chiba really control her dream self? There are times it seems like she can or can’t be independent of Chiba. It seems, also, that Kon, as much removed from the content of anime’s disreputable “hentai” genre, can’t resist at least one violation scene with the heroine (in both her guises), when Paprika, pinioned as a butterfly girl, undergoes a form of rape at the hands of a minor villain. The smashing coda to this scene is that the main villain, who is puritanical, takes control of his underling’s flesh to upbraid him for his lack of control (it’s also a nifty reference to the film THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT). The capper to this almost reads like a rebuttal to all the salacious actions rife in Adult Anime, and carries a kind of self-reflexive irony.
The movie never really concludes the question of whether invading the dreams of others is morally questionable, but the city-wasting finale is a doozey – replete with giant dolls emitting glass-shattering, sonic shrieks, psychiatrists transformed into towering robos, and the odd and truly sublime image of grinning salarymen swan-diving off building roofs. It all climaxes with the uplifting image of Chiba accepting her Dream Self to battle The Chairman, rising from an egg, becoming a child, transforming into the perfect synthesis of the two halves to end the chaos.
As in his earlier work, PERFECT BLUE, which featured protagonist Mima zapping back and forth between real and “reel” life, Kon is fascinated with the image of Doppelgangers, and the dichotomy of Reality vs. Illusion. Characterization is strong and there is also a fairly understated, but affecting Love Story underneath all the sturm and drang. Kon, one of the most versatile anime talents working (a back-to-back viewing with his 2003 TOKYO GODFATHERS shows just how versatile he is), has crafted a visionary masterpiece that is beautiful, scary, funny, suspenseful, horrific, and like the best dreams, isn’t easily shaken or forgotten. Those hungering for more exposition in their movie might feel punch-drunk on the gorgeous, unlimited mindscape flying by, but everyone else should dive in without reservation.
The Sony Pictures Classic Release (November 27, 2007) a single disc with a good widescreen print and fine Dolby stereo sound. The original Japanese-language soundtrack is set as default with subtitles in English, French and Spanish. Other audio tracks include English 5.1, French 5.1, Spanish, and filmmakers’ commentary from Kon and composer Susumu Hirasawa. The DVD also provides a number of Special Features that should be of particular interest to the viewer without diminishing the enjoyment of the original product.
The first, “Tsuitsui and Kon’s PAPRIKA: Making of-Documentary” is absorbing in delineating the original scribe and Kon’s attitude toward the source novel and the adaptation. Tsutsui, who retired from writing following the novel’s finish, called it “the summation of my career in terms of bothentertainment and psychoanalysis” and the tortuous process of writing it (he based the novel’s dream imagery on his own, and as a result, the writing process was attenuated). Kon, particularly, going for a loose adaptation (“Remaining rigidly true to the novel is pointless, because the novel will always be superior. It is tough to recreate visually”) details the formidable task of scripting the film: Kon began storyboarding before the final third of the script was completed.
“A Conversation About The Dream” features voice actors Megumi Hayashibara (Atsuko Chiba & Paprika), Toru Furuya (Doctor Tomika), and Kon and Tsutsui. The commentary is generally light-hearted with Hayashibara and Furuya discussing the challenges of their individual roles; Furuya especially found it hard to provide the right vocal timbre for the morbidly obese, childlike Tomika. Both actors offer favorite scenes. Among the highlights of the commentary, Hayashibara talks about the challenge of making her character fall in love with Tomika.
“The Dream CG World”: This is an overview by CGI director Michiya Kato on the use of 3-D CGI to achieve the disorienting, perspective-warping sense of dream-state. Perhaps 1/3 to ½ of the movie utilizes some form of CGI, which breaks down “to about 350 scenes.” Among the highlights: the rippling effect in Konakawa’s dream chase; which took 3 months to achieve; the reoccurring Parade Scene, which called for 5-6 angles of falling confetti (requiring 65,000 pieces being animated).
“The Art of Fantasy,” featuring commentary by Art Director, Nobutake Ike, who also worked on TOKYO GODFATHER (visually, a far more subdued film) details the challenges of providing a color contrast between the alternate states of reality and dream through which the characters bounce back and forth.
PAPRIKA (Sony Pictures Classics, 2007). Directed by: Satoshi Kon. Written by: Seishi Minakami and Satoshi Kon, based on the serialized novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Voices: Megumi Hayshibara, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Furuya.