October 02, 2006


Paprika I'm being a big, wet girl for admitting this, but halfway through the credit sequence for PAPRIKA, the new animated film from Satoshi Kon (PERFECT BLUE, TOKYO GODFATHERS), I got choked up. I wasn't near tears because anything sad was happening, but because I was happy.

After a brief opening scene PAPRIKA launches into a credits sequence where its main character floats through nighttime Tokyo and I haven't seen a piece of film that's sharper or smarter in a long time and it really got to me.

Because he's an animator, and has to draw every sigh, every piece of garbage, every blink of an eye, Satoshi Kon scrutinizes real life more closely than most directors and he doesn't take anything for granted. When he shows you a woman out by herself in a big city late at night he's condensing everything real about that situation into three short minutes, putting it under high pressure and tweaking it with animation to kick it slightly off-center. He pulls reality so tightly that when he plays it, it sings.

It's too bad that PAPRIKA is basically a sci-fi flick, because this is a movie that would appeal to a far wider audience than sci-fi fans or anime heads. It's a movie that, if David Cronenberg had made it (and he couldn't, so it doesn't matter), would be getting Oscar nominations and earning raves in the dailies. If it wasn't for all the talk of DC Minis and giant robots, naked dreamgods, and psychotherapy machines this would be the perfect date movie.

Dr. Chiba, a coolly efficient, angular woman who's a pro at negotiating the chess game that is corporate science, is one of the team working on the DC Mini and the psychotherapy machine. These little gadgets allow a psychotherapist to enter their patients' dreams, deciphering the subconscious codes that program us, dredging up forgotten traumas and guiding scarred people towards happy resolutions. It's lucid dreaming with your hand held by a counsellor who wants you to be whole.

Unfortunately a version of the DC Mini has been stolen and someone (referred to throughout as "a terrorist") is using it to plant a delusional psychotic's dream into everyone's heads. Techies suddenly start to sprout Grant Morrison nonsense poetry and throw themselves off rooftops and from high windows, if they don't die they fall into a vegetative state where their brian slowly decays as the nasty, unreal parade of dolls and forgotten toys that started in a madman's brain marches through their grey matter, pulling their dreams, one by one, into a collective dreaming that will spill over into reality when it recruits enough dreamers.

The animation is precise, far more detailed and careful than anything coming out of Japan save for movies from Studio Ghibli and 4C, and the voice acting and subtitles are spot-on. While the story does tend to spin out of control and into a rut (is it dream? is it reality? no, it's a dream. wait! no! it's reality again) for about 15 minutes around the one hour mark, Kon's interest in people and his commitment to telling a story where things actually change and the status quo isn't magically restored at the last minute with a wave of the directorial wand elevate PAPRIKA far above standard issue sci-fi. The only place he shies away from reality is in the lack of genitals on his giant dream gods, although I suppose a ten storey wang swinging around might be a little distracting during the climax of the film.


Kon doesn't go for typical dream imagery, and it's refreshing to see a director who's looking for new ways to do something that's been done a million times before (ever since THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI in 1920). But where he really shines is in the depiction of two much-maligned groups: working women and fatties. On the fatty front, one of the movie's most idealistic, capable and intelligent characters, Tokita, is introduced to us stuck in an elevator. A series of standard issue fat jokes follow and despite how well they're executed they still stick out like sore thumbs and had me depressed at the easy potshots Kon was taking. But as the movie proceeds it becomes clear that Kon is putting in these stereotypical fat jokes to debunk them. Takita's idealism and optimism become the backbone of the movie and by the end he's not just a moving mountain of suet but a human being who earns his title of genius.

And the entire flick is practically an anthem for working woman, doing far more for the professional gal than Melanie Griffith did in WORKING GIRL. Dr. Chiba comes across as efficient and a bit harsh, like she's deliberately scoured herself of emotions in order to combat the myth of women as more emotional than men, totally sterilizing her feelings in the process. She's balanced by Paprika, her in-dream avatar that guides patients through their traumas like the coolest, cutest anime gal you've never seen. Round and soft where Dr. Chiba is hard and angular, warmly colored where Dr. Chiba has the pallor of a corpse, Paprika starts to break your heart every time she shows up. This is the better part of Dr. Chiba, the way she wishes she could be in public, and the way she probably hasn't been since elementary school. Kon doesn't make a big deal out of it, but it's clear that he's saying something about what women have to do to themselves in order to compete in the workplace - to one degree or another - and it's enough to shake even the blindest individual.

Kon also gets into some business about the queers, and he's on thinner ice here. A couple of gay relationships show up in the film and while they're used no more pruriently than a hetero affair would be used in a thriller, there is a difference in the way homo and hetero affairs are perceived and I wish he had been slightly more attuned to this.

Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble (one boring 15 minute stretch and some lack of sensitivity) compared to a movie that's a straight-up rush of creativity and emotional honesty. It's a movie that manages to dissect the state of the world completely and totally, and you don't even realize that's what it's done until you're walking out of the theater. If I was some kind of freakish mutant with three hands PAPRIKA would get all three thumbs up.

(PAPRIKA will play this month at the New York Film Festival. Fortunately, the rights are held by Sony Pictures which means that PAPRIKA will get a limited theatrical release in 2007.)

Read the Variety review.

Read the Screendaily review.

Read the Twitch review.

October 2, 2006 at 11:49 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink


Limited theatrical release in 2007? So what's the possibility of a DVD release soon after? Your review has me hopeful. ^_^

Posted by: Christian | Oct 2, 2006 7:21:51 PM

Sigh... I doubt that limited theatrical release will come anywhere close to Nebraska.

Posted by: Jason | Oct 2, 2006 7:51:21 PM

Can't wait to see it this Saturday!

Posted by: Simon Abrams | Oct 3, 2006 7:19:20 AM

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