They say that variety is the spice of life. In a continuing attempt to embrace that variety here with One Movie Each Day, I’ve decided to dedicate each Wednesday review to the stranger side of cinema, the type of movies that I’d never normally watch, but that I’m kind of secretly glad exist. In celebration or in condemnation of the eccentric, the odd, the freaky, the kinky, the ghastly, the freaky, the fearful, the flaky, and the freaky, I now present this series triumphant return to Japan with this, the fifteenth edition of Wednesday Weirdness.
Since I’ve reviewed a few animated movies this week, I decided that it would only be fitting to keep the trend going here with what is actually the second animated edition of Wednesday Weirdness, but perhaps more importantly, the my first trip into the world of Japanese anime.
And “trip” is most certainly an apt description for today’s movie, Paprika, the final film by acclaimed director Satoshi Kon. The movie has apparently been cited by Christopher Nolan as an inspiration for Inception, and even if that’s not true, it certainly seems like it is, because just as ParaNorman shares a premise with The Sixth Sense, the premise of Inception may as well have been directly lifted from Paprika. However as with those two movies about a boy who sees dead people, Paprika goes in an entirely different direction than Nolan’s later film about a dream machine.
The movie is trippy and very bizzare, yet it does maintain a fairly coherent plot. It’s not particuarly easy to simply explain the mood of the movie, so I’m embedding the trailer at the bottom of this review, and here’s the official synopsis from the studio, Sony Pictures Classics:
29 year old Dr. Atsuko Chiba is an attractive but modest Japanese research psychotherapist whose work is on the cutting edge of her field. 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 devise known as the “DC-MINI” has been invented by her brilliant colleague, Dr. Tokita, a nerdy overweight genius. Although this state-of-art device could revolutionize the world of psychotherapy, in the wrong hands the potential misuse of the devise 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 esearch around the same time that Dr. Tokita’s research assistant Himuro goes missing, Atsuko suspects it’s not a coincidence. If the DC MINI isn’t found, this could lead to the government’s refusal to sanction the use of the machine for psychotherapy treatment.
When 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 knows for sure that whoever is manipulating the machines has a more evil purpose. The DC MINI is being used to destroy people’s minds.
Honestly, at first the plot seemed like something of a whirlwind of nonsense, but once I was able to accept it, I came to realize that the world of Paprika does stay have its own set of rules and it does, at least, abide by them. Now granted this is a twisting-turning set of rules, but somehow it works.
The film is definitely a visual spectacle, and as the trailer suggests, it does make American animation look like the kiddy pool. I started out watching this movie, as is my general rule, with the original Japanese dialogue and English subtitles, but there’s so much happening visually, that I switched to the English dub, because I felt like I was missing things. As visually complex as it is, the film is also beautiful. Often it seems like in addition to simply using animation as a medium for telling a story, the animation is also a series of works of art in their own right.
As trippy and bizarre as the film is, it isn’t packed with non-sequiturs like, Dasies was. All the strange happenings do go towards advancing an understandable and entertaining narrative. This narrative is actually more straight-forward than even Inception.
There’s no pseudo-philosophical hokum, or “what is reality” pondering, instead it’s a situation where we’re told, “here’s the way the world is,” then shown an exciting series of events springing from that premise. What Paprika really is, then, is pure science fiction, depicting a single scientific new technology, and the havoc that is wrought as the scientists who wish to use it for good are forced to reckon with those that want to exploit it for their own advantage.
As such, I really enjoyed the film. It’s not completely flawless, the character development generally doesn’t follow a complete arc, though generally what’s missing seems to be the first half of the characters’ development. At times it felt like this was a sequel, or that there should have been an extra twenty minutes at the front of the film, because a lot of the character’s identities and how their relationships seems to be taken for granted. Ultimately, I think I can write this off as a creative choice, but its an odd one, that makes the movie a little less comprehensible.
At the end of the day Paprika is really a lot of fun. It tonally it’s generally bright and silly, with plenty of comedy. This said, there’s also a fair amount of moderately disturbing content as well, but somehow it feels appropriate given the un-reality of the dream world in which it occurs. It’s a visual spectacle with a story that stays interesting, and (although I haven’t mentioned it up to this point,) the score is absolutely fantastic. At the end of the day, I’ve got to admit that Paprika is a must see.