Monday, January 24, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Paprika (2006)

Paprika (2006) Anime. Dir: Satoshi Kon

At a psycho-analysis institute a group of doctors are working on a device called the DC-Mini. With this they can enter, alter and record their patients dreams. But because it is still a prototype anyone could use it. And that is just the problem when three of the DC-Minis get stolen from the institute.

When they realize it must be an inside job, they get investigating. And the only way to track back to who implanted an insane dream of one of the patients into Dr. Himuro's mind is by entering that same dream. So who got their hands on the DC-Minis and why? Will they be able to stop them before all of their minds have disintegrated into the collective dream? And who is Paprika, the cute girl who keeps appearing and leading them through the dreams?

This might all sound a bit familiar. Perhaps like the highly praised, hugely succesful Hollywood blockbuster Inception...

I won't go into this too much, but I just have to say this:
I saw Inception before I saw Paprika and really liked it. I thought the ideas were really creative and original. But after realizing what a blatant rip-off it is of Paprika, even copying some of the scenes such as the hotel hallway and elevator which look identical, I think it's an absolute disgrace that Christopher Nolan takes all the credit for a beautiful idea that wasn't his to start with and he never cites as the inspiration for this movie which has lifted him to new heights of acclaim and ass-kissery.

Anyway, back to Paprika. What struck me first was the beautiful animation. All the designs are taken directly from director Satoshi Kon's hand drawn storyboards, so it really is
his vision coming to life. And lively it is, with brightly coloured, highly detailed dream sequences, melting together with the real world.

What is so great is that they've taken the medium of animation and really ran with it. It's bold, fantastical and it really takes the story to a new level.
It was supposed to be a live-action movie, but that got pushed aside because of financial reasons. I'm so glad it ended up being animated, I just can't imagine a live-action version being anywhere near as exciting, absorbing and visually stunning.

If you're in the right frame of mind and are willing to give it your full attention, Paprika is one of the most rewarding films you could see. You are taken on this mad rollercoaster ride of a story, which keeps developing further and further until you can't possibly imagine how it will get resolved.

But it does, and very satisfactory too. In one of the extra features (get your hands on these if you can!) Satoshi Kon talks about resolving the plot. It was one of the hardest parts during the making of the film, already storyboarding the start of the story without having an ending present. But instead of compromising the plot for a good, easy ending they kept working on one that would work with what was already written. This really pays off, the whole movie is so rich and wonderful, it would have been such a shame to lose that to an ending that would no doubt have also been inferior.

You can really tell how much effort has gone into Paprika. Next to such an amazing plot, the characters could seem flat, mere vessels for the story, but they're well-written and the voice acting full of character. Watch it in Japanese with subtitles, all these voice actors were directed by Satoshi Kon, so you really get the voices the way they were intended.

I love the duality between Dr. Atsuko Chiba and Paprika. I'm sure there are loads of theories about the connection between the two, so I won't tell you mine. I think it's more fun to go into it without any preconceptions.

All the characters really deserve their part in the story, from the fat, childlike genius and inventor of the DC-Mini, Dr. Kosaku Tanika to the strict, imposing chairman Dr. Inui, they all serve purpose to the dynamic between the characters and by enriching and moving along the plot.

Two of my favorites are the old head of staff Dr. Torataro Shima and detective Toshimi Konakowa. Konakowa serves well as the viewers guide through the story, as the only one not directly involved in the dangers, his confusion and bewilderment at finding himself mixed up in it all makes you feel less lost in the complex world of Paprika.

A fun bit of trivia: there are two barmen, Jinai and Kuga, in the Radio Cafe who for some reason seem to know more about what's to come. I wondered why, but when I found out they were voiced by the original writer Yasutaka Sutzi and director Satoshi Kon, it all makes sense!
And ofcourse there is Paprika. A dreamgirl, always there when she's needed. Someone to call out to in your dreams. But who is she really? Just a figment of the imagination, someones alter ego, or a girl who really exists but just in the realm of dreams? I've got my ideas, but I'm still not sure. There are so many ways to interpret her and that is what makes her and the movie so fascinating.

Paprika is one of the best films I've ever seen. It's got a great score, beautiful animation and a mind-blowing story. This really is a must-see, even if you don't usually like or watch anime. Paprika is totally worth your time and attention.

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