Saturday, May 9, 2009

Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006)

This movie is beautiful and full of surprises. Another example of the outstanding animation of Japanese studios, this one has a very current plotline: some people have created computer equipment that monitors dreams, and it’s being used experimentally for psychiatric purposes. But there are unintended consequences: the borderline between the dream world and reality is severely weakened. The cast is small: there’s Detective Kogawa, undergoing dream analysis with the sparky, red-haired Paprika; the research team of Chiba Atsuko, the fat genius inventor Tokita, the tiny balding supervisor, the vanished associate Himuro, the handsome young associate jealous of Tokita and infatuated with Chiba, and the gaunt, wheelchair-bound boss. Something is going wrong in the dream-level—somebody is taking over, and it’s not clear who.

The disturbance is manifested by a circus-like parade marching out of the dreamworld. The parade seems to merge into the dreams of random others, and the victims in the real world smilingly speaking amusingly absurd gibberish. All through these dreams, and investigations by Dr. Chiba, a little red-clothed doll recurs, sometimes with a face morphing into Himuro's face. Misdirections abound, but at last the villain of the piece is identified, and he is stopped just in time. But the leakage of the dream world has grown exponentially and the villain is in the process of destroying everything—one of the best effects in the movie is the way dreamscape locations start to shake and wobble and slip downward into a black-hole vortex. At the climax the entire real-world city is dissolving and sliding into the darkness surrounding the villain.

The dream-mad circus parade, full of colour and blue butterflies and frogs and confetti in the air and crowds of toys and surrealistic hybrids of refrigerators and humans and animals, people morphing into televisions, and ominously cheerful music—this is brilliantly conceived and executed.

Detective Kogawa has a recurring dream about a film noir memory, in which he arrives at a crime scene too late to save a murder victim. Sometimes he’s in a circus that starts out happy and then drifts into menace. His dream analysis takes place in a nightclub accessible through the internet, where Paprika comes to talk, and where two neat bartenders preside--and they later enter the world like elemental spirits to help defeat the villain.

Paprika is a virtual being, apparently projection of the beautiful Dr. Chiba in the virtual reality within the dream computers. We see her in reflections, sometimes talking to Chiba out of the mirror, but she has an existence beyond this function, and as the dream world and the real world start to merge, we see Paprika and Chiba together in the same scene.
A brilliant aspect of the movie is the slippage between media images, reflections, real-world, dream-world, imaginings, and explanations. In the opening scene, Paprika runs through the city, appearing on the crowded street, in billboards, reflections in shop windows and rain puddles, on a picture silkscreened on a t-shirt, on television monitors, and so forth. She’s intrepid and fast and ingenious and kindly and serious about helping people understand their dreams, and then later about healing the broken dream world. Science without compassion almost destroys the world; science with love saves it. The soundtrack is also great, especially the strange and cheerfully spooky parade music.

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