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Children, tighten up and listen keenly ... Your Ol’ pal MG has something to tell you. Run. Run! Run as if your buttocks were on fiyah to your nearest cinema. My Darlings, I’ve witnessed not just an amazing theatrical event, not just some really cool cartoon… Kids, I’ve seen the New Surrealism, and it’s called Paprika.

Satoshi Kon’s Paprika has arrived on our sunny shores and I’m here to give you the good news. This mind-blowing, eye-popping artistic achievement has already received critical praise during its initial release in Asia; and it’s also by the same director who brought us one of my favourite animated features, Tokyo Godfathers, as well as Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. However, Paprika is so far beyond anything Kon or any other anime feature director has done before that no praise is enough.

Yes, babies, we dug it.

A quick run through on the plot. A team of scientists has created a psychotherapy device called the DC-MINI. The DC-MINI allows outside viewers to watch your dreams via computer and allows therapists to synchronise the conscious and unconscious mind by allowing a “dream detective” to safely guide the patient through some of their darkest subconscious thoughts. Enter the star of our show, Paprika, a spunky, 18-year old sprite who can manipulate the unreality of the dream world to gradually manoeuver her charges to sanity. Of course, such a revolutionary machine falling into the wrong hands can only be a bad thing, and boy, is that an understatement. One of the DC-MINIs gets stolen and that’s when things get really strange. One by one, members of the science team start to go mad; spouting gibberish and attempting suicide completely under the spell of a dreamlike state. It is discovered that the missing DC-MINI has attained the power to invade the conscious minds of people not connected to the machine, creating a world of dreams manipulated by twisted mind of the thief who stole the contraption in the first place. In short order, we watch as the DC-MINI’s reach expands to innocent townspeople creating a city of destructive dreams.

The science team is lead by the cool, reserved, clinical Dr. Atsuko Chiba, I’m usually vehemently anti-spoiler, but I’m going to have to give this one up: she’s Paprika. Sorry to let the meow meow out of the bag, but that’s the key to the whole shebang. Paprika is Atsuko’s alter-ego, her dream persona. As we watch the wonderful opening sequence where we see Paprika in her pixie hairdo and kicky Capri pants, skipping through a montage of her patient's subconscious, acting as his co-star in famous movie scenes, hopping out of billboards (- but not before grabbing a quick beer from one of the ads), conscientiously reaching out of a computer monitor to pull a blanket onto a tecchy who’s worked too hard, and evading traffic jams by leaping onto a rocket painted on the side of a truck. She can do and be anything the dreamer’s mind can conjure up and her bravery, humour and pluckiness makes her quite literally the girl of her patient’s dreams. You can’t help but wonder if Dr. Atsuko bears her subconscious a little jealousy being such opposites Paprika’s bright colours, boldness, and excitement are on the other pole to Atsuko’s refined poise and logical reserve … kind of like Mr. Spock! Everything about them is very different right down to their character designs (- by Masashi Ando). Paprika is drawn in a very classical anime style, very young, kittenish, and adorable, with huge round eyes and coloured in warm earth tones. She’s cute, but not overtly womanly or threateningly sexual (Kawaii!). Atsuko is drawn in a style that seems to have referenced the works of Playboy artist Patrick Nagel. Blue-black hair pulled into a wispy bun, luminescent pale skin with a bluish undertone and striking full blood red lips. She is all angles and monochromes right down to her wardrobe. Atsuko is clearly an adult, while Paprika is a tomboyish teen. It’s a mystery how they could both be part of the same person, but that question is also a great aspect to the film: In time, Atsuko and Paprika will have to reconcile and work together to save their compatriots, the world, and themselves from the consequences of the stolen DC-MINI, but that’s a spoiler for another day.

The best thing an animator could’ve hoped for is a story that takes place in a world where dreams take over. With Paprika, based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, Satoshi Kon gives us the beauty, the silliness, and the occasional unrelenting terror that dreams can make us prisoner to. There’s a good amount to disturb with in Paprika, including the shudder-inducing literal ripping apart of Our Heroine. Heck, the movie starts right off with a creepy clown – (Eek! – Poltergeist flashback! - This is one pachyderm you won’t see at a circus!) - Although the Japanese Ichimatsu doll in Paprika gives that phobia a serious run for its yen. The crossover of the bright, vibrant colours of the dream world into the more staid neutral palette of the waking world is shocking to the eye and lets us know how very much not in Tokyo we are anymore. Kon takes full advantage of the dream world premise and runs with it. He gives us a retina-blowing, unforgettable mind trip for his efforts. His references to the Green Fairy, the Monkey King and a cameo by Akira Kurosawa (- or at least a Kurosawa cosplay) among many others keep us engaged through the secondary mystery of who stole the DC-MINI, and the slightly convoluted sci-fi-centric explanation of why the machine is infecting the populace (- Something about a jellyfish, I dunno.). I was too enrapt with the beauty of the proceedings to nitpick: The spellbinding animation, the wonderful voice acting, and the brilliant score, it got me. If this is the direction that Kon and other Japanese anime directors are taking with their art, I am at once ecstatic and frightened to see what will come next. I don’t know if my feeble little pachyderm heart can take it - Somehow, I think I’ll survive.

To quote Paprika herself, “Encore”

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

May 28th, 2007

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures Classics)