Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Paprika: How About a Trip to Your Subconscious?

Let's say it's some time in the future and people have discovered a revolutionary tool in psychoanalysis -- i.e., shrinks can enter a person's dreams using a tiny, harmless-looking device that can be hooked to a monitor and a video recorder. They call it the DC Mini. Pretty nifty, isn't it?

Now, imagine that one of these devices got into the wrong hands. Imagine the magnitude of havoc that a terrorist can do with such a powerfully invasive device, which can be used not just against anything but the one spot where a person is most vulnerable -- his psyche.

That's exactly what the 2006 film Paprika speculates upon. Based on the novel of the same name, Paprika the film, directed by Satoshi Kon (the same person behind such animated masterpieces as Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent and Millenium Actress), follows Dr. Atsuko Chiba, Paprika, and their fellow experimental research psychologists as they develop and test this cutting-edge psychiatric device.

Chiba is the no-nonsense, icy leader of the team while Paprika is the flirtatious renegade who bends all the rules. The catch? They're both the same person. And they hate each other's guts.

However, when three of the prototype DC Minis are stolen from their creator, the genius with the attention span of a child, Dr. Tokita, Chiba and Paprika must work together in order to find the perpetrator before the confounding Dream World of this criminal merges completely -- and permanently -- with Reality.

Mind-bending works

I have always been a fan of Satoshi Kon, ever since I saw Tokyo Godfathers on Animax. That film was just spectacular, not merely because it was fantastically animated but because it was truly the sort of feel-good movie that you want to watch at such a time (it was December). After that was Millennium Actress, which is a joy to watch with its visual splendor and clever storytelling concept (the film mainly employed "breaking the fourth wall" style of narrative, otherwise known as "metafiction"), and I remember thinking that nothing can possibly top this.

Oh, but was I ever so wrong.

Paprika came to me through the push-button conveniences of technology -- which is to say, I met a fellow fan through the internet who generously gave me a copy of the film -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

With the exception of Tokyo Godfathers, Satoshi Kon's works are overwhelmingly psychological, which is to say that they deal with the subconscious, identity and memory interlaced with human perception. And in all cases, his films are a medley of any of these dominant inspirations but in Paprika, I do believe he is in even better shape than before.

Paprika is that kind of film that gives you a head rush, not merely because of the stunning visuals but also because it fucks with your mind the entire time you're sitting in front of your TV with your mouth open.

Pure Animation Art

Now, speaking of visuals, there are so many in Paprika I don't even know where to start. The movie is introduced through a fantabulous opening sequence of a circus that rapidly mutates into different scenes from a movie without warning. That one was gold. And then there are those scenes that portray the Dream World invading Reality vividly represented by a band of marching appliances, dancing frogs and streaming confetti. All of these are rendered in 2D panels awash in festive colors.

That said, Paprika is pure art speaking through animation and Satoshi Kon's genius for film-making.

While the premise of entering people's dreams as a psychiatric treatment is not uncharted territory (The Cell is one example), it is so wonderfully executed in this film that it doesn't even matter. The film is just too good, the art too beautiful, and the animation too seamless that you don't even have to understand the admittedly sometimes confusing storyline in order to enjoy it.

Another delightful aspect of Paprika is the character designs. I have to admit that I am quite picky when it comes to that and I really want my anime to be populated by nicely drawn people. The character designs for Paprika are attractive and hip and the best thing is they are complete allusions to each character's personality.

True that Satoshi Kon is not above hackneyed character designs and often resorts to cliched personalities as when he chooses to portray Dr. Tokita as a typical nerd-boy with a massive weight problem, the portrayal, however, is not merely for cheap laughs. The same goes for the teenaged, rounded, red-haired design for Paprika and career-woman, angular, monochromatic frame for Chiba.

Incidentally, both Paprika and Chiba are voiced by premier seiyuu, Megumi Hayashibara. Yes, both of them, and once you see the film, you'll understand just why I have so much respect for this seiyuu (some of you may recognize her as the voice of Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop).

Musically, Paprika is as eccentric as the film itself. It displays the work of composer Susumu Hirasawa whose The Girl in Byakkoya features prominently in the opening sequence as we follow Paprika cruising through nighttime Tokyo and the ending theme of the film.

Final Word

Paprika is a wonderful film by a wonder film-maker. It's a darkly psychological drama told in beautiful art interlaced with sci fi thrills and frills. So even though it is cartoon, it's not for children. Some scenes can be quite disturbing. There is also some nudity and graphic depiction of violence.


Official Site (English)
More screencaps from "Paprika"
"Paprika" DVD @ Yes Asia
"Paprika" @ Amazon
"Paprika" @ Play-Asia
"Paprika" @ RightStuf