Sunday, June 3

Spice Girl

Satoshi Kon's latest psychothriller anime.

Dreams are amazing, aren't they? One night you're surrounded by familiar faces and presences in your underwear... another night, you're being chased by a monster while running on a treadmill. On one level, they're inexplicable and unfathomable, yet on another it seems that the secrets to living life may actually be hidden in the nuances and images of our subconscious. But who can tell for sure?

Well, in the speculative world of Paprika, anime director Satoshi Kon's latest animated opus, dreams have finally been laid wide open thanks to a device known as the DC Mini. Created by the massively overweight and child-like genius Dr. Kosaku Tokita, the DCM allows one to see, enter and even interact with the dreams of patients, potentially opening the door to finding cures for various mental illnesses. At the forefront of this research is the beautiful yet seemingly cold and driven Dr. Atsuko Chiba (voiced by anime seiyuu icon Megumi Hayashibara), through her secret alter-ego; an adventurous, fun-loving red-headed teenaged dreamwalker named Paprika.

But when several samples of the DCM are stolen, the dark side of dream interaction is revealed as an unknown party begins tampering with dreams, sending people into a spiralling path of madness and even death. To protect their work and the waking world, Atsuko, Paprika and their colleagues fight to discover the villain behind this growing nightmare.
Fans of Satoshi Kon's work will feel right at home with Paprika- it contains much of what has come with his work before... beautiful female protagonists who are both tough yet vulnerable, gritty cops doggedly on the trail of their suspects, psychotic situations and dark humor and of course, wonderful animation and a complex story. Paprika certainly has tons of issues- such as the kinship between the internet and dreams, the morality of science and dream interaction and even the challenge posed on women in the modern/future workplace. Yet even with all that, it's also quite possible to just enjoy Paprika on a base level- it's a gorgeous work of animation with some seriously insane visuals.

The characters are a mix of the usual suspects and surprising cast choices- Atsuko is your beautiful yet cold heroine, counterbalanced by the bubbly and adventurous Paprika. Detective Konakawa, a hardened cop and patient of Paprika, seems to be the same gritty cop character often seen in Kon's other works. Then there's Dr. Shima, the usual wise, wizened old man often seen in anime in general. The most surprising new character is Dr. Kosaku Tokita- you don't usually see weight-challenged people as protagonists in anime aside from just for humor (Simpsons and The Family Guy come to mind when talking cartoon fat guys)- but Kon treats his overweight hero with as much dignity as he does the occasional fat joke. AND he gets the girl in the end.

Paprika isn't perfect- there are quite a few stretches of quiet and jargon that will probably bore those looking for instant gratification. Paprika for all her competence is as much damsel as heroine. But at the very least, with the wild imagery and animations on display, I can at least say that the film is a fair shot into showing the formless, ever-changing landscape of dreams- which is never an easy subject to tackle.
In terms of content, this is certainly not a kid's film- both because of the complexity of the subject and several instances of disturbing imagery and some nudity. Kids may enjoy some of the colorful animations and sequences, but the long talking sequences may get them drifting away into dreamland quite easily. For the anime enthusiast and fans of a great anime director's works, this is yet another dream come true.

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