Review by Jenny Jediny
Posted on 25 October 2006
Source Mad House Ltd. / Sony Pictures 35mm print
Features: The 44th New York Film Festival
Satoshi Kon’s Paprika is a whimsical sci-fi film noir that shuttles between a psychiatric institute’s sanitized halls and the dream life of its patients. At a center not merely for treatment but also for experiment, a new device called the DC Mini has been stolen and is being used against patients, doctors and hospital staff alike, infiltrating their dreams and interweaving them with the nightmares of the mentally ill. Kon’s colorful fantasy pits a female therapist in the center of this mystery, whose detective skills are sharpened by her ability to transmogrify herself via the DC Mini into our film’s heroine, the fiery Paprika.
Paprika is as light and punky as its split-sided protagonist, whose dual nature is one of the more developed aspects of this rambunctious film. While Paprika is a young, vixen-ish sprite, her human ego, Dr. Chiba, is a buttoned-up, bespectacled, and well respected member of the psychiatric team. Paprika/Dr. Chiba is easily the most powerful figure in the film; as Paprika, Dr. Chiba can easily slip in and out of the most tangled nightmares, aiding her male colleagues, as well as troubled police Detective Toshimi, all of whom express some infatuation with Paprika, calling her their “dream girl,” obviously in more ways than one. While the use of an evidently younger girl for the peppy, more adventurous side of the intellectual Dr. Chiba could be read as the seemingly eternal sexual preference for the naïve, Paprika conveys this union as not only functional, allowing Chiba to maintain her professional appearance at work, but a perfect tie-in to the childish imagery that permeates the nightmares wreaking havoc on the hospital.
The dream sequences in Paprika simply burst onscreen; in their nightmares, the characters face an endless parade whose cacophony rings with circus tunes and marching band trumpets, while figures ranging from geisha dolls to enormous frogs to that popular cat most famously featured in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, its china white paw hanging in mid-air, form a cavalcade of childhood relics that have escaped from the attic. The revelry is superficial, as this parade is led by a monstrous king whose true identity lies at the center of Paprika’s puzzle, and can only be solved with our heroine risking her sanity by diving into dreamworlds via the DC Mini. The blend of bloated nightmare and reality emphasizes the film’s references to social repression and the individual’s inability to contain desire even within the subconscious. The DC Mini, evoking one of the new toys that might be dreamt up by Steve Jobs, is a clever spin on Kon’s Internet preoccupation, which Kon likens to a dreamer’s landscape as it becomes a vehicle for venting the repressed conscious.
Paprika is delightful in its unrestrained play, sucking in (and frequently regurgitating) familiar imagery of not only childhood, but also cinema itself; aiding Detective Toshimi in analyzing his own nightmares, Paprika leads him through a series of recognizable scenarios ranging from Tarzan to a generic spy thriller in which he adapts the hero role, forgetting a recent bout of paralyzing self-consciousness in his work. The freedom our detective finds in his dreams is very much indicative of the charm of this anime piece, stretching familiar boundaries of animation into a playground that invites play not only for its characters, but also for the audience.