Satoshi Kon's latest film is a bit of a mind-trip, a science fiction-tinged surrealist journey into dreamland. It takes a look at the concept of technology invading nature and the dangers that can be wrought by the unscrupulous use of said technology. Paprika has a feeling of Strange Days crossed with A Nightmare on Elm Street. It is a gorgeously animated excursion into the oft times bizarre world of dreams.
The film opens with Detective Konokawa at a circus tracking down a criminal. Before you can get a grasp of what is happening he is transported to a cage in the center ring, accosted by a variety of carny characters bearing the same face before falling through the floor, landing in a hallway with a body falling halfway down it. Going in I knew very little of the story, so I had a big "What the…?" expression watching this sequence play out. It turned out to be a dream of Konakawa's that was recorded as part of a new therapy session with an analyst named Atsuko.
This is one of the beauties of animation, there are no boundaries outside of the story being told. Even with all of the modern advances in special effects technology you will never be able to match what you can do with animation. This is something that seems to be explored much more within the world of anime. Now, I am not terribly well versed in this area, but I have seen enough to see the possibilities that animation has. But back to the story at hand.
A device, called the DC Mini, has been created that allows users to enter the dreams of others. It is being developed as the latest tool for treating mental illness and other medical issues. All is going well until the prototypes are stolen. The problem with the technology is that for as much good as it can do, it can be used for destructive and evil purposes. Whoever has stolen the devices is using them to enter the minds of others and is using them to put them into a catatonic state.
Atsuko is a lead in the development of the DC Mini and along with the inventor, Tokita, and Dr. Shima, plans to make another device in an effort to track down the suspect in the theft. However, the plan is thrown into disarray when Dr. Shima seems to lose his mind in what turns out to be another attack. The Chief, who runs the company they all work for, is against the use of the technology. He does not like the idea of technology invading the private world of our dreams, and puts a stop to its development.
Despite the efforts of the Chief to stop the development and Atsuko's efforts to find the culprit, the attacks continue. More and more people are being drawn into the dream world that is taking on a life of its own as they begin to mix and match. The dreams of everyone become intertwined in a mass madness. Leading the way through the dream world is a wild parade of appliances led by a refrigerator and overseen by a pile of creepy porcelain dolls.
I will admit that at times I was unsure of what I was watching, though I am sure that was part of the point. There is a blending of reality and dream where there are times you will not be sure which you are watching. Of course, there are moments when the characters are not quite sure which state they are in, adding to the confusion.
Paprika is a wonderful film. Despite the confusion the story really is not that hard to follow, and it displays a deliciously vivid imagination. In addition to the technology run amok theme, there is a bit of a love story for the art of the cinema primarily through the Konokawa character, but evident in other aspects as well. He dreams in cinematic format, placing himself in films such as Tarzan and From Russia with Love. There is a conversation about cinematic techniques, and navigation of dreams is portrayed as a variety of movie theaters.
Bottom line. Seriously, this is a movie that is firing on all cylinders. The characters are interesting, the visuals are stunning, the plot is interesting, and the conclusion satisfying. What more can you ask for? A truly original cinematic experience.