Over the past decade Satoshi Kon has built up a dedicated fanbase with a succession of critically lauded feature films. The success of Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and his TV series Paranoia Agent has catapulted him into the anime major league alongside the likes of Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Oshii and Isao Takahata. So it wasn't surprising that a screening of his latest film, Paprika, was one of the major draws for Sci-Fi London's recent Anime Allnighter.
Set in a near future, Paprika follows
a research team who are on the verge of revolutionising psychotherapy with the
DC Mini. The invention of the genius scientist Tokita Kosaku, the DC Mini
is a device that allows a psychiatric doctor to enter the dreams of patients and
analyse mental problems from the inside. However, before the use of the
technology can be approved three of the prototype DC Minis are stolen, throwing
the research team let by the calm and calculating Doctor Atsuko Chiba into
panic. The devices have yet to have safety parameters set, and can be used
to enter and alter anybody's dream. In the wrong hands they could be
devastating, allowing someone to splice dreams together and trigger delusions in
normal people. The sceptical chairman of the company the team works for is
looking for the opportunity to pull the plug on DC Mini development, and unless
the stolen devices can be found he may have his excuse. Doctor Atsuko
faces a race against time to get to the bottom of the crime as members of the
research team begin to succumb to dream attacks from a DC Mini, suggesting it
could be an inside job. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman known only as
Paprika is already using the device for successful but illegal therapies, is she
the thief? Is she friend or foe? As dreams and reality begin to
intertwine she may be the key to stopping the misuse of the device, but they
have to find her first...
If that sounds a little bit confusing, try watching it at two in the morning! Once again Satoshi Kon proves to be the master of the mindbending, blending bizarre dream imagery with reality to the point where you don't know what is real and what isn't. Whilst this isn't that original as a concept, it doesn't stop Kon turning it into something spectacular. The visuals are absolutely stunning, with great character design and gloriously surreal dream sequences bolstered by impressively unobtrusive CGI. The imagination shown
throughout is superb and Kon depicts dream logic brilliantly. No matter how weird it is, stuff like running through a circus big top and then swinging through the jungle as Tarzan makes perfect sense in a dream, and Paprika grasps this randomness perfectly.
That's not to say that it all
makes sense though. Anyone who has seen Perfect Blue or
Millennium Actress will know that Satoshi Kon has a habit of
taking you on a journey that frequently has you wondering what the
hell is going on, before tying it together at the end.
Paprika is no exception. Dreams and reality mix and bleed
together, and with the limitless possibilities of dreams Kon really
goes to town. Processions of marching dolls, suits of armour,
statues and shrine gates march through cinemas, deserts and city
streets; people turn into trees, or believe they can fly.
Basically everything goes nuts, and in the middle of it all Doctor
Atsuko and Tokita struggle to sort out the mess whilst trying to
hang on to the tenuous strings of reality. Despite the general
confusion you get from watching it though, it does remain
entertaining. The plot goes off in unexpected directions, and
seemingly minor characters become extremely important later on.
It keeps you guessing, there's some good comedy, plenty of drama and
even some quite sweet romance. It's also pretty tense,
especially towards the end, and the dreams are often pretty creepy.
It may be mad as a spoon and utterly confusing, but it doesn't make
you want to turn off. Instead you want to see where it's
going, you want to know how it's going to be resolved.
However, unlike Satoshi Kon's other films the resolution isn't completely satisfying. Things get a little bit too improbable, and it goes outside of the reality the film itself has built. There isn't sufficient explanation for why some things can happen, meaning that as a viewer you have to take a mental leap of faith. It also explores similar areas to Kon's 13 episode TV series Paranoia Agent, and the final third in particular may seem a bit too familiar if you have seen the series. In his recent work Satoshi Kon has very much challenged the set
concept of reality, and explored how the power of the human imagination can shape what we see as real and constant. For me the conclusions proposed by both Paranoia Agent and Paprika are startling but a little unfocused, and do take something away from the end of both works.
However, whether you like the conclusion or not Paprika certainly makes you think. The film is a rollercoaster ride of surreal imagery, gorgeous animation and a gripping and intriguing plot that keeps you guessing throughout. It is pretty confusing in many places and I'm not afraid to admit being completely nonplussed at points, but it draws you in to its world through a combination of likeable characters (I personally thought that the overweight, childlike genius Tokita stole the show) and sheer inventiveness. You never knew what was going to happen next and that made it great fun to watch. It looks great, the music is great, it's utterly bizarre. Will you be confused? Most probably, but it's a film that you will come back to again and again. At the end of the day f you like Kon's other films you're going to buy this anyway when it comes to DVD, and if you do you won't be disappointed. If you haven't seen any of his films then, whilst I don't think this is as good as Perfect Blue, it is a good one to watch if you want to know what his films are all about. (must...fight urge...to end with...cheesy soundbite...) Go on, spice up your life with Paprika! (...damn.)