Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Paprika (2006) Japan

Director: Satoshi Kon
Cast: Megumi Hayashibara, Akio Ohtsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Tohru Furuya, Toru Emori
Running Time: 90mins

Four years after the immensely successful ‘Tokyo Godfathers’, Satoshi Kon returns with a film that is best described as classic David Lynch meets Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Fountain’, in animated form.

Despite the commercial triumph of ‘Tokyo Godfathers’, many fans were left slightly cold by the move away from the brilliant surrealism of ‘Perfect Blue’ and ‘Millennium Actress’ to more gritty, real-life issues. The ‘Paranoia Agent’ TV series that Kon helmed a year later, was a welcome return to form and this has thankfully been continued with his new feature length, ‘Paprika’, loosely based on the Yasutaku Tsutsui novel of the same name.

Whilst his first two features were thematically based around the human sub-conscious, never has it been quite as up front and obvious as in ‘Paprika’. The film centres on a group of scientists, who have created a device called the “DC Mini”, which allows them to see into the dreams of their patients, and record the happenings for later viewing. Near the beginning of the film, the DC Mini is stolen, and the person responsible uses the device to blur the distinction between reality and dreams, driving their victims to insanity or death.

Dr. Atsuko Chiba, the head of team who created the device, has an alter-ego of Paprika, which she uses when she enters the dream world through the DC Mini. She enlists the help of her research assistant and a local police chief to track down the person(s) responsible for stealing the device; jumping in and out of people’s dreams as she does so.

The majority of the film is seen from the point of view of either Chiba or the police chief, both of whom have their own issues, discussed through vibrant imagery, as the divide between real life and the sub-conscious becomes ever less. The character development of these two especially is excellent, with so many plot-twists and incidental happenings occurring along the way, that ‘Paprika’ requires at least a couple of viewings before the plot starts to truly fall into place. Not only does the film question the characters’ memory and perception, but also those of the viewer, in much the same way as a David Lynch film such as ‘Lost Highway’ or ‘Mulholland Drive’.

Luckily, the film contains so much lush and vivid imagery, that watching it multiple times is a complete pleasure. The majority of the dream sequences are brim full of bright colours, strangely contoured versions of children’s toys and epic backdrops, painting brilliantly surreal pictures that will stay in your mind for weeks. After watching ‘Paprika’, you feel a sense of envy, wishing that your own dreams were such a delight to behold as those contained within the film.

Each dream sequence perfectly portrays the feelings that many of us experience within our own dreams. The sensation of being somewhat detached from what is happening around, a mere spectator, but with the tingling dread that we could, at any point become part of a terrifying nightmare that we may not be able to escape. There are few film directors that share Kon’s seemingly endless ability to create such an atmosphere, and like his previous films, this is at the heart of the brilliance of ‘Paprika’.

Startling imagery can only provoke a certain amount of emotion by itself. Fortunately, Kon recruited Susuma Hirasawa, whom he had previously worked with on both ‘Millennium Actress’ and ‘Paranoia Agent’, to provide a soundtrack that is almost as memorable as the crazy images it sits alongside. Hirasawa is somewhat of a creative genius, with his award winning live-shows frequently involving large audience participation and improv sections, whilst his studio recordings continually tread new ground. The demented, electronically twisted marching band track that accompanies the main recurring dream scene is truly spectacular and meshes so seamlessly with the scene that it is almost impossible to imagine one without the other. Not to continue the David Lynch comparisons too much, but Kon and Hirasawa seem to have reached the same creative plateau as Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti did at the height of their inspired partnership. One can only hope that Hirasawa will provide the soundtrack to whatever Kon’s next venture may be.

The ideas, imagery and sound are all so perfectly matched in ‘Paprika’ that it would be hard not to argue that this is Kon’s best feature work yet. He continues to defy the pre-conceived notion of what Anime should be, creating dark, twisted explorations of the human sub-conscious that seem a million miles away from the majority of Japanese animation that makes its way to Western shores. ‘Paprika’ definitely requires repeated viewings to get the most out of it, but if you are willing to dedicate the time that it deserves, you won’t find a better animated film this year.

Pre-order the US DVD or Blu-Ray at dvdboxoffice, or buy the French Blu-ray (English subs, Region free) at