PAPRIKA: a review from IFFR 2007
OK, I can’t resist. The discussion about the upcoming UK dvd-release has had me replaying this movie in my head a couple of times now, so I have to write a (belated) review about it.
At the start of 2006, to me Satoshi Kon was only one of the more interesting contributors to anime. I liked his movies “Perfect Blue” and “Tokyo Godfathers”, and enjoyed his work on “Memories” but was most impressed by his collaboration with Mamoru Oshii, doing some of the character designs for the excellent “Patlabor 2”.
All this changed when I bought the dvd-boxset of his television series “Paranoia Agent”. I flat-out loved what he did there, turning me into a rabid fan and anything he does is now a blind buy for me. His first new work is his new cinema effort “Paprika”. The trailer made me anticipate it a lot and once again thanks to the Rotterdam International Film Festival I got to see it last week!
If you suffer from a recurring nightmare it can feel like a disaster. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could share it once with a friend who would be in the dream at your side, protecting you from harm? Someone who could fight the monsters and show you how to stop being afraid of them? A friend who is a cute girl as well?
Enter Paprika, who provides exactly that service if you know how to find her.
When Satoshi Kon made “Paranoia Agent” he used all sorts of leftovers from his earlier movie projects. He had also been trying to get the science-fiction novel “Paprika” made into a movie since it was published in 1993, and it seems like a lot of ideas explored in that novel made their way into “Paranoia Agent” as well. Now Satoshi Kon has finally made “Paprika” the movie itself, teaming up with the writer and music composer of “Paranoia Agent”, so it is no coincidence to find many similarities between the two. Which is not a bad thing…
The story, as spoiler-free as possible: in the near future, a team of scientists has found a way to look into people’s dreams through the use of a remarkable device called the mini-cd. Experienced users find that they need the device less and less, and sometimes don’t even need to sleep to be able to communicate with dreams.
The most experienced scientist has even grown a sort of permanent avatar in this dreamworld, a pretty and benignly mischievous girl with god-like powers called Paprika. The help of this Paprika is sorely needed when a couple of mini-cd’s are stolen and used to cause suicides within the team. Initially a contained problem, dreams however turn out to be a lot more powerful than expected and Paprika and the team together have to find out who is responsible before a global catastrophe happens.
Warning: you might get punch-drunk from this movie. It is like watching 3 episodes of “Paranoia Agent” in a row, with the last half of “Akira” attached to the end! While the movie starts nice and almost slow (check out the brilliant opening credits when you open the US-site), near the end you get almost burrowed in an avalanche of images which assault you with breakneck speed.
It is not too overwhelming though because Satoshi Kon is in fine form indeed, giving you several characters to root for which ground the story. For me this is his finest movie yet, combining all of the strengths he showed in the past. I love the designs he made for this film and how he combines them with the technological trickery he uses. Seriously, the movie looks ten times more expensive than it apparently cost.
What is shown is sometimes very adult, so this is not one for the kids. There is sex and violence here, culminating in a symbolic rape-like assault which is very disturbing to watch. It is not done in an offensive way however and important to the story.
More problematic is the fact that homosexuality is only shown in an abusive manner. The film is not too obviously promoting an anti-gay agenda, but might be seen as such and these plot elements could in my opinion have been done with a bit more caution (I don’t want this to become a flagship-title for the bashers, then again would they watch an anime with a girl acting as God?).
But quibbles aside, this movie is excellent on so many fronts that I can’t stop praising it for long. Dreams in movies are often used as a way to cheat, most notoriously as a fake shock-effect in horror-movies. I hate dreams almost as much as I hate the people who always want to tell me theirs, but “Paprika” tells a compelling story about the subject which is decent science fiction and so much more. It’s thrilling, funny, scary, sexy and I forgive it for being a bit overfull at the end. The audience in Rotterdam rated it with a 4.14 out of 5, again beating "The Host" with a fair margin. That didn’t surprise me although I still find it difficult to choose one over the other (granted, also because they are so different).
Anyway, this will be a blast to watch many, many times on DVD. What a ride!
There apparently is talk within Warner Brothers of making a movie out of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman franchise. While this is generally considered to be impossible I think Satoshi Kon could pull it off. But why would he? He basically already has done it with this movie, replacing Sandman’s brooding dream-god Morpheus with his far cooler sister.
(And he made her a redhead too!)