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  Publicity Stills of "Paprika"
(Courtesy from The Picturehouse)

In Japanese with English subtitles
Director: Satoshi Kon
Cast: Megumi Hayashibara, Tôru Furuya, Kôichi Yamadera, Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Emori, Akio Ôtsuka, Hideyuki Tanaka, Satomi Koorogi, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Mitsuo Iwata, Rikako Aikawa
RunTime: 1 hr 30 mins
Released By: The Picturehouse
Rating: NC-16 (Some Nudity)
Opening Day: 19 July 2007


29 year old, Dr. Atsuko Chiba is an attractive, but modest Japanese research psychotherapist, renowned for her advanced scientific work. Her alter-ego is a stunning and fearless 18 year old “dream detective,” code named PAPRIKA, who can enter into people’s dreams and synchronize with their unconscious to help uncover the source of their anxiety or neurosis.

At Atsuko’s lab, a powerful new psychotherapy device known as the “DC-MINI” has been invented by her brilliant colleague, Dr. Tokita, a nerdy genius who is rather too fond of his food. Although this state-of-art device could revolutionize the world of psychotherapy, in the wrong hands the potential misuse of the device could be devastating, allowing the user to completely annihilate the dreamer’s personality while they are asleep.

When one of the only four existing DC-MINI prototypes is stolen in the final stages of research, and simultaneously Dr. Tokita’s research assistant, Himuro, goes missing, Atsuko suspects it’s not a coincidence. Several of the remaining researchers at the lab start to go mad, dreaming while in their waking states, haunted by a Japanese doll which featured heavily in the dreams of one of Himuro’s schizophrenic patients. Atsuko now knows for certain that the DC MINI is being used to destroy people’s minds. She fears that not only will the government refuse to sanction the use of the machine for psychotherapy purposes when it becomes public, but whoever is manipulating the machines has a more evil purpose in mind.

Movie Review:

The beauty of any animation is its ability to move beyond what is real and create a a world of our dreams. In Paprika, the dream world is exactly what we get. Director Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers) helms a story of reality, nightmares, and the surreal as a madman begins tampering with people's dreams.

Satoshi Kon’s Paprika is a whimsical sci-fi film noir that shuttles between a psychiatric institute’s sanitized halls and the dream life of its patients. At a center not merely for treatment but also for experiment, a new device called the DC Mini has been stolen and is being used against patients, doctors and hospital staff alike, infiltrating their dreams and interweaving them with the nightmares of the mentally ill. Kon’s colorful fantasy pits a female therapist in the center of this mystery, whose detective skills are sharpened by her ability to transmogrify herself via the DC Mini into our film’s heroine, the fiery Paprika. There is, around the edges, a nice little mystery at work. Introducing a detective (Akio Ohtsuka) haunted by an unsolvable murder case, and his interplay with both Atsuko and Paprika makes for some engaging noir-lite moments. A visit to an abandoned theme park suggests clues at a deeper puzzle, while the cop’s own dreams begin to combine with the main fantasy hinting that the crimes may be connected somehow.

Paprika is definate recomendation as there are many scenes that work when put them together with the overall movie. A running gag involving the cop’s dreams - a collection of old movie clichés - is quite welcome. The secondary characters, including a massively overweight scientist and his diminutive boss, are colorful enough to carry us through. A sense of humor tickles the entire production, resulting in some unexpectedly large laughs throughout.

Alas, Paprika is not for children. It's disturbing at times, though not in a cheap violent way. More like great art that has the courage to face demons with unique intensity. Adding it's merits immediate attention, the catchy, intrusive blend of Japanese pop/electronic dance music’s only function is to propels the story into action. The dream control at the center of Paprika is indeed inspired and potentially brilliantly phantasmagoric, and Kon and his fellow writer Minakami Seishi keep the film light on its toes as it indulges in pop fantasy (most clearly seen in red-haired, costumed Paprika, a literal kind of dream superhero) and, most successfully, in the sci-fi concept’s self-reflexivity.

It's difficult to say how the mainstream press and public will react to this film. Despite the visuals, those who have been coddled by the hyper-realism of most live action movies may reject the other-worldliness of the logic and narrative at work here. I suspect there will be a lot of nit-picking about minor plot points they deem to be ridiculous and easily dismissible. I wonder how many people will truly be able to disengage themselves from their realities, as this film demands, and be able to take on the world of dreams with the abandon that their characters do. Like real dreams, the world is a nonsensical mish-mash of life experience, hidden thoughts and agendas, and all the stories and popular culture that make up our lives. Susumu Hirasawa's always unique synthesizer work here is appropriately abrasive and inspiring.

After all, Paprika, in this dreamworld, is more or less a superhero, and she brings the film an unrestrained joy. Dreams are a potentially happy thing, and those who have been subverted by the “psycho-terrorist” are almost drunk on the possibilities of this new world that has none of reality's rules. Little effort is made to build suspense or scare us; the characters are too busy with their orgy of delusional delights.

And while the story may make this Kon’s least inspired film, the animation is his most inspired: every corner of the frame is crammed with massive amounts of colorful detail. It’s here, in this rich, impressive artwork, that the movie truly feels like a dream, and it’s here that the film wins us back. “Paprika” is an example of style over substance in the anime world, but for the most part, it’s just enough style for us to forgive the substance.

Movie Rating:

(It's like Alice in Wonderland hyper chaotic mode!)

Review by Lokman BS

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