Like a KB Toys that stacks Kierkegaard and Jung next to the Nerf footballs, Satoshi Kon
's ballistic Paprika couldn't be more ecstatically heady or peculiarly engaging. Following in a select lineage of hyper-intelligent anime, Kon's mash-up of technology, psychology, and a warped conga line of everyday utensils and spastic tinker toys could be the most intelligent science fiction enigma to pop up since Linklater
went all "am I myself?" on us in A Scanner Darkly
Dr. Atsuko Chiba has the honor of being one of the few psychotherapists to test out the next wave of psychological probing: The DC Mini. Designed by a jelly donut of a man named Dr. Tokita, the DC Mini allows Chiba to go into her patients' dreams, studying and interacting as her alter ego Paprika. She has made major breakthroughs with one patient, Detective Konakawa, but soon enough the DC Mini becomes a point of threat. It seems that certain proprietors of the Mini DC are committing suicide while in a waking dream populated by lunatic imagery including a disco-dancing refrigerator, teddy bears trotting around, and a monster mash of telephones, alarm clocks, and action figures. It becomes Chiba, Det. Konakawa, and Paprika's charge to find out who is behind these deeds and who has stolen one of Tokita's Mini's for their own use. Article continues below
Paprika is pregnant with concepts on technological advances, corporations, and psychotherapy, but it might even be more fascinating on the level of moral responsibility and the freedom of the mind. The DC Mini allows the patient, a repressed being, natch, to vent their dreams openly to their psychologists. A proposed idea here is that this also allows for an open market of corruption from a calculating mind with designs on world domination and mass mind control. Scientologists will have a field day with this.
Unencumbered by story boundaries, these wild dreams appear in the narrative with abandon. While in an empty movie theater, the heroes are almost immediately confronted with the parade of caffeinated gadgets, quickly exiting before being absorbed. Akin to the free-form blast of the two Ghost in the Shell films and the ever-shifting realities of Howl's Moving Castle, Paprika never allows you to get your hands around the slippery rascal, constantly breaking up its distilled reality. As anime goes, it's not the most freakish of entries, but it's one of the more surprising and scintillating.
More punctuated and profound than Waking Life, Kon's craft at imaginative insanity easily matches the more renowned names of his field. As much as dreams and reality, Paprika is also about cinema, the celluloid dream. After the Godzilla-sized, coal-black super demon crumbles, the last shot of the film shows the detective surrounded by marquees for Kon's other films (Tokyo Godfathers, etc.). Surrounded by his own dreamscapes, Kon's character (alter ego) finds a lasting warmth in these produced dreams and wants nothing more than to bask in their seeming simplicity. At the end of the day, Kon might just have found the most colorful and giddy way to express the musings of a born cinephile without being pompous or assuming.