Friday, 6 September 2013

filmbore pick of the week - Paprika


Director: Satoshi Kon
Screenplay: Satoshi Kon, Seishi Minakami
Starring: Megumi Hayashibara, Akio Ôtsuka, Tôru Emori
Year: 2006
Languages: Japanese (English dubbed)
UK rental release: January 2008

It's been well over a year that this site has been running now and, even though I have already reviewed some animated features (such as A Town Called Panic, Waltz With Bashir and Tales Of The Night) I'm surprised myself that I've never picked any movies from a genre that I have always had a great fondness of...anime. But let's not select an obvious one here, choosing something unusual in true filmbore style. For this, it has to be Paprika

Detective Konakawa (Akio Ôtsuka, famous for the voice of Batô in Ghost In The Shell) is on the lookout for someone. He's scanning the patrons of a travelling circus, passing details to nearby undercover operatives. 

Suddenly, through the means of some surprising magic, he is conjured up by the ringmaster into a cage in the centre of the "Big Top" to the cheers of the baying crowd. As he desperately tries to perceive what's happened to him, audience members begin to swarm towards him frantically. But...why do they all have his face?

Seconds later, he is rescued by the redheaded heroine, Paprika (Megumi Hayashibara, Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion), emerging Tarzan-like into the Amazon jungle. Before he can get his bearings, Konakawa is now on a speeding train, preventing his target from garroting him. We shift once again, where we find our troubled agent on a boardwalk taking photos. But Konakawa must drop what he is doing and make chase again, following his quarry into a corridor, where an innocent victim falls to his death in slo-mo. This cannot be real...can it?

This is not reality as we know it. Instead, we have been cordially invited into Konakawa's dreams by the means of a device known as the DC mini - a key to the subliminal pathways while you sleep. Konakawa may be suffering from severe anxiety from an unsolved homicide case, that seems to be manifesting inside his mind while in a slumber, and Paprika is here to psychoanalyse him as a genius psychologist of the nether-state.

Back at the laboratories that birth the DC mini, it's vastly overweight but genius inventor Tokita (Tôru Emori, Tokyo Godfathers) is concerned. Relaying the news back to his friend and work colleague Dr Atsuko, they are both distraught to here that three DC mini units have been stolen from the company. The secrets behind this incredibly advanced technology must not get out and misuse of the device's abilities could be catastrophic.

Investigating further as they continue to worry what the thief's motives are, they learn that a maverick scientist, now rebelling, Himuro, could be the culprit. The abuse of the machine by this larcenist of lethargy allows for dreams to be implanted onto the conscious mind of a subject that has been in near contact with a DC mini, meaning they will fully experience the reverie of a crazed patient while still awake. And such incidents are increasing.

Has Himuro become a terrorist of the mind? Or is he a victim too? It's up to Paprika and the others to ride the never-ending wave of dreams to uncover the scary truth.

From Satoshi Kon (who brought us Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers) this is the final and, sadly, only fourth film from the anime genius before he died tragically from pancreatic cancer in 2010, to the shock of his adoring fans worldwide. Fittingly, this is his greatest piece of work and a touching swansong before leaving our world and entering a peaceful reverie of his own.

When I say this is his finest output, I really don't mean this lightly either. This movie is a kaleidoscope of visions, colours, music, themes and plot, all constructed perfectly in a manner deservingly mystifying. Only one minute into Paprika and you'll be perplexed, but delightedly so. A cocktail of brief vignettes of events surrounding Detective Konakawa dart across your eyes, taking you through the dance of his dream state.

These early scenes highlight the cinematic pedigree this piece bestows. The animation is so beautifully stylised, as with most decent anime, but it's the artwork by the animation unit Madhouse that puts this a cut above the rest. The template is instantly recognisable, especially to anime fans like myself. With its striking colours and wonderful, unrepressed use of perspective, even in close-ups and claustrophobic shots, this is a collection of exquisite renders, using a mixture of graphic techniques both new and old. In fact, it's quite rare to see an animated film blend pencil drawn and CG artwork so seamlessly.

Visually, the whole picture is stunning but this isn't wholly what you take away with you. It's the original designs in some of the dream sequences that sear into your mind. Sometimes ethereal, sometimes nightmarish, nearly always intangible, it's difficult to disagree that there is some level of genius at work here. At points, the unique quality of some of these moments are truly extraordinary, drawing you into this sub-cerebral adventure. The headline act of these dizzying images is the "parade": an unforgettable, heady concoction of characters and appliances, the imagery feels unearthly exclusive. And as as we entertain this rabble of the peculiar, they continue to march perpetually, dancing to some crazily brilliant music.

This is thanks to some incomparable compositions from Susumu Hirasawa. Being the first feature film to use Vocaloid voice synthesising software, and to fantastic effect, the entire picture is graced with modern music throughout, each melody infused with different genres. There really is some awesomely bonkers music at play here...hauntingly beautiful, dramatically powerful and altogether alien. A genius blend of classic sounds and modern beats.

Through the insanity of the sounds and visuals, there is still time for the odd token anime comedic moment, yet thankfully these are both brief and tastefully managed so that they partake equally in the film instead of marring it. This keeps Paprika's funny bone in its socket but still loose enough to don the odd hat here and there. There's even a nice nod to the crazed Japanese TV series Monkey! in the cloud-flying opening of a key action sequence.

There are deeper themes than references, odd jokes and striking music though, as in its many forms this movie tries all manners of exposing the fragility of the human psyche.

What you may notice mainly is the frequent use of corridors throughout the tale. What these represent is obviously at the viewer's discretion, but some may view them simply as a pathway, a journey, into the next chapter in this tale, as we slowly uncover more truths behind the conspiracy of the DC mini theft. You may even perceive them as representing the synaptic links between our dreaming moments, mirroring the slow crumbling of the lead characters mental stamina.

Duality is strongly addressed also (partly learnt through the identification of Paprika), suggesting how our dreams and nightmares illuminate elements of our being that our conscious self is too terrified to confront and reveal. The key theme amongst the subliminal and surreal, however, is jealousy. Each character is either consumed by envy or doomed to acquire it from their aggrieved peer, yet this premise is demonstrated in such a beautifully poetic manner as the story unfolds...Admiration is truly a misunderstood beast.

It's rare for a movie to truly encapsulate what really happens in our minds while we slumber. What Paprika achieves so creatively is a brave, yet directly obscure approach, closer to our dreams than we may realise. Plus, due to the freeing construct of the medium of animation the film takes it to another level, by accentuating these visions beyond the expected boundaries and presenting us with a true spectacle!

There gets to a point in Paprika when you think you've seen it all. That is until it unexpectedly expands its imaginative reach to absolutely breathtaking levels, delivering an artistically astounding piece, with a gripping storyline and imagery so unique nothing has looked anything like it before or since. A complete original! 

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  1. Will put this next on the list to watch!

    1. Good stuff Katie. Hope you enjoy it. It's a rare one! Sticks in the mind... :)