Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I will freely admit I am not a big anime freak. In fact, I came to anime by way of my being a film geek (and a gaggle of college friends who were big anime freaks).
Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira opened the doors for me, of course, as it did for so many others. But my anime hero is, hands down, Satoshi Kon.
Even since he blew me away with Perfect Blue, Kon has consistently amazed and impressed me with his work: Sennen Joyu (Millennium Actress), Tokyo Godfathers, and the 13-part Moso Dairinin (Paranoia Agent).
Now he’s back with Paprika, and I’m just now picking my jaw up from off the floor.

Paprika opens with a familiar circus gag: a clown unfolding himself from out of a car that is far too small to have contained him in the first place. This is, of course, a visual cue to one of the film’s themes: how something vast like dreams can be contained in the tiny vessels of our minds.
Paprika is about the DC Mini, a groundbreaking invention that allows two individuals to share a common dream. Much like the scenario posited in Tarsem Singh’s The Cell, one person can enter the subconscious of another, and interact, not just with that person, but with his dreaming mind as well.
While a Detective Konukawa—stumped on a murder case he is investigating—is helped by the eponymous Paprika, who enters his dreams to see whether the problem is rooted there, a number of DC Minis are stolen from the company developing the technology. Soon, dreams are used to invade people’s psyches, trapping them in a waking state of delusion and mad ramblings, a chilling precursor to a more widespread epidemic that will threaten the very fabric of reality.

While in past films like Perfect Blue and Sennen Joyu, Kon has mined the idea of fiction intruding on reality (and vice versa) and utilized it as a narrative device, in Paprika, he takes that theme and places it at the very heart of the work.
There, at the dreaming center of Paprika, that theme plays with the other ideas that bubble beneath its animated skin—the parallels between dreams and the Internet; truth that can spring from fiction; dream as film and film as modern man’s repository of dreams—and produces a brilliant piece of inspired storytelling that is the latest gem in Kon’s dazzling body of work.

As with all of his films, Paprika is a visually arresting piece, the dreamscapes on view utilizing motifs from myth, fairy tales, and film (which, of course, serves the same purpose today that myths and fairy tales used to in the past). Appropriately enough, the dreams we get to see in the film are unsettling and disturbing, and Kon rifles through imagery normally associated with children (circuses and dolls and parades) and extracts their inherent sinister qualities to suit his storytelling purposes.

But above and beyond the visual, what probably draws me to Kon the most is his clear love of film and how he draws on that for his anime.
In Perfect Blue, he brought Hitchcock and giallo to the animated film in a razor-edged mindf*ck that constantly shifted between fiction and reality as a J-pop singer trying to segue into acting becomes embroiled in murder. In Sennen Joyu, an aging film star reminisces about her past, her life and her films intertwining to form one long, shining reel of memory. In Tokyo Godfathers (clearly a play on a cinematic tradition that stretches back to the 1936 Western, Three Godfathers), three of Japan’s homeless find an infant during Christmas and become the child’s unlikely guardians.
In each of these anime, film is either a crucial plot element or an obvious inspiration, and it is partly because of this clear love for the medium that Kon’s works play so differently than those of other anime heavyweights like Otomo or Miyazaki. There is also clearly a postmodern bent to Kon’s storytelling that serves to elevate his work even more above the average anime.
What can I say? I love his stuff.

Of course, one could argue that Paprika is not his best work—and I’d agree. But as it stands, Paprika is nonetheless better than your average anime, and is another excellent masterwork from Kon. Certainly worth a look, even if you aren’t particularly an anime geek.

(Paprika OS courtesy of impawards.com; image courtesy of outnow.ch.)

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