Satoshi Kon’s Paprika

It’s always fascinating to me how other countries use the animation genre to do much more innovative and imaginative things than the states. Don’t get me wrong, Disney Pixar films and such are brilliant, but the potential in a visually boundless medium like that is somewhat more untapped than those studios realize. Japanese filmmakers, however, have been diving headlong into it for decades now, and Satoshi Kon’s Paprika practically reinvents the genre with it’s extreme brand of surrealistic storytelling and dense, provocative mind games. The film focuses on the R&D of a device called the DC Mini, a dangerous contraption that brings one subconscious mind into another for a dream-melding process that’s supposed to break new frontiers in psychiatry. The technology is soon hijacked by an elusive terrorist though, and used to create all kinds of pseudo-synaptic chaos in which elements from inside the collective unconscious bleed over into the real world and make the line between reality and dreams awful blurry. It’s up to lead scientist Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara), her dream alter ego Paprika, a police detective (Akio Atsua) with his own trippy demons, and the techies at their research firm to stop this dimensional crossover before existence as they know it turns into one big kaleidoscopic nightmare. That’s the over-simplified version though, for director Kon uses the template to go simply wild and ballistic with both the visual and written narrative, for an utterly confusing, hypnotic tapestry of future-shock imagery, primal forces at work and intangible mood-scapes that defy description. Once the dreams invade the conscious plane, a deranged parade of nonsensical beings marches through the film, turning people mad and making the illogical take centre stage, as the film truly manages to capture that ‘other’ set of feelings and impressions we all know of in dreams but can’t quite articulate. It’s one hell of a confusing film though, and multiple viewings are in order before one can unravel every elliptical plot point and reason behind each of the carefully constructed yet audaciously impulsive visuals. Speaking of visuals, rarely has animation been used to this mind blowing extant, a colourful, fierce blast of artistry and storytelling that fires on all cylinders. There’s a disturbing quality to it as well, a subtle doomsday vibe with the subject of technology, the human mind and the unwitting dangers we set loose when we meddle around with forces bigger and badder than us, and as playful as the tone sometimes gets, there’s a cautionary tale hinted at that gives the whole thing a grounded, ‘adult’ feel. Not to mention a haunting, endlessly catchy score by Susumu Hirasawa that adds to the film’s own vibrantly memorable personality. A classic.

-Nate Hill

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