VIDEO: The trailer for Paprika
Do films hold the power of dreams? Can they drive you mad? Satoshi Kon — a traditional cell-animation director who made his feature debut with 1998’s Perfect Blue — is no stranger to such questions. Mima, that film’s former pop idol, walked along the precipice of insanity as an obsessed fan fractured her perceptions of self, public and private.
Kon’s newest is the culmination of themes that he continued to investigate in 2001’s Millennium Actress. Based on a serialized novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, it’s a sprawling canvas of wild ideas that are massive in both clarity and execution — from the first gleeful image of a clown impossibly emerging from a miniature car to a recurrent parade of dancing, anthropomorphic household appliances, a marching band of frogs, sake-swilling raccoons, the Statue of Liberty, and . . . the Virgin Mary? Yet his ideas remain as personal, and as obsessive, as in his earlier works. It’s as though he had prepared a favorite recipe and added a dash of paprika.
Ah, Paprika. A raven-haired sprite of pixyish sex appeal, she flits through the dream worlds of those she enchants. Whether surfing the air on a tiny tuft of cloud or swinging through it on a vine, Jane in the arms of Tarzan, she’s an angelic, calming presence for those in need of help. Those she visits are tinged with delirium — but then, they’re her patients. Or rather, they’re the patients of Dr. Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara). A psychotherapist at a mental-research center, Atsuko sheds her Clark Kent–like persona as she enters the dreams of those under her care in the frequently changing forms of superhero Paprika, whose true identity is known only to her boss, Dr. Shima (Katsunosuke Hori), a short, wise, balding older man — and the most recognizable anime trope (picture Ghost in the Shell’s Aramaki) to be found in this cliché-defying enterprise.
Atsuko achieves this dream-inhabiting miracle through the wonders of the DC Mini, a sleek head-worn device that enables users to record and share their dreams. When three DC Minis are stolen, Atsuko/Paprika must track them down before the fabric of reality is forever torn. Joining her is flat-topped Kogawa Toshimi (Akio Ôtsuka), a cinemaphobic detective who’s haunted by nightmares that merge The Greatest Show on Earth with Roman Holiday. Really.
Rather than giving us a black-and-white chase of technological good vs. evil, Kon continues his meditation on identity in crisis, riding a wave of breathtakingly insane sights –– not to the usual apocalyptic ending, but to the simple closing image of a man purchasing a movie ticket. How fitting for a film that will surely reward repeated viewings! See you in line . . .