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Want A Dash Of Satoshi Kon’s PAPRIKA?!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I’m seeing this Tuesday night, and hopefully, I’ll be speaking to Satoshi Kon this coming week. I’m a huge fan of his work, and I think he’s one of the guys who has proven repeatedly that anime is not a genre... it’s just a storytelling style that can deal with any subject and any idea. Is his new film as good as TOKYO GODFATHERS or MILLENNIUM ACTRESS or PERFECT BLUE? The trailer is gorgeous and bizarre. Let’s see what this reviewer had to say:

If you use this, please call me "Huntley Haverstock." I was lucky enough to catch an advance screening of Satoshi Kon's "Paprika" last night in Washington D.C. I'm not a hardcore anime fan -- I like what I've seen of Hayao Miyazake's work, and I've enjoyed a few series that have run on Adult Swim in the past few years, but that's about it. But Satoshi Kon's "Paranoia Agent" is one of that handful of series to really engage me, and I've heard good things about the director's previous films, "Millennium Actress," "Perfect Blue," and "Tokyo Godfathers." So when the trailer for "Paprika" appeared online, I was psyched to see it, and when this advance screening rolled around, I jumped at the chance. The director, humble and self-deprecatingly funny, was present to introduce the film. He invited the audience to think of it as a roller-coaster ride, rather than trying to analyze every moment. He's exactly right. Intellectually, a few aspects of the film were kind of a letdown for me. But as pure entertainment, "Paprika" is a blast -- giddy, creepy-cool, and loaded with exciting action, intriguing mystery, and marvelously imaginative imagery. I'll do my best to avoid spoilers here. The film deals with a device that lets one person enter and affect another's dreams, and what happens when it's stolen and put to sinister use. The title heroine is a perky, insightful "dream detective" -- think Amelie meets Supergirl -- who's also the dream-world alter ego of a stuffy, uptight, emotionally repressed scientist who helped invent the dream-reading device. The interplay between these two vastly different personalities is one of the least explored -- yet most interesting -- aspects of the film. The film's supporting cast is also largely well-developed and likable, with many of the film's funniest moments arising naturally from their personalities and reactions to the increasingly strange events around them. As the search for the dream device plays out in both the waking and dreaming worlds, we also meet a middle-aged cop troubled by painful dreams of a murder investigation that's got him stumped. How he resolves that dilemma, with and without Paprika's help, not only ties in well with the main story, but pays off beautifully on its own. For me, it was one of the most moving parts of the entire film. "Paprika" is also first-rate eye candy, packed with dazzling imagery and playful visual wit. The superb opening sequence, in which our heroine makes nighttime Tokyo her playground, flitting from billboards to computer screens to an image on a passerby's T-shirt, is only a taste of the amazing sights to follow. (It doesn't hurt that it's accompanied by the film's shimmering, irrepressibly cheery theme music, which never quite wears out its welcome.) There are subtler visual pleasures here, too; a close-up of raindrops merging on a car window to illustrate a discussion about fusing personalities, and the way the director adds chills to an otherwise warm and funny scene by having someone's bloody hand quietly smear itself across a window in the background. The film is full of sly in-jokes to please just about everyone. The otaku at the screening roared their approval at several references I just didn't get -- Paprika done up as the Monkey King from Chinese myth; missiles firing from a robot's chest; a hero silhouetted against a skyline at sunset, with a beautiful woman swooning in his arms. But I dug the director's spot-on nods to several classic films, including From Russia With Love and Roman Holiday, as well as a clever little homage to Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. As I said, if you keep your brain mostly disengaged, "Paprika" is great fun. But a few elements struck a sour note with me. The villain's way too easy to guess, for one thing, although there are a few clever and unsettling twists to that part of the story. It may also be telling that the film's title character appears nowhere on the U.S. poster. After building her up as a clever, brave, and resourceful heroine for the first half of the film, she abruptly becomes a helpless and much-abused damsel in distress for much of the second half, in need of big strong men to come and save her. (I'm a guy, but maybe I'm just watching too much Joss Whedon; a female friend who saw the film with me found all of that "totally hot.") There's also a romantic element that arrives out of left field, and seems so wildly out-of-character, and so unearned, that it feels like cheap pandering to the film's core fanboy audience. Even with these apparent flaws, "Paprika" is just too much fun to dislike. Throughout the movie, there's a smart, subtle running theme about reconciling the dreams of childhood with the realities of adult life. The film's wistful, perfectly understated last scene ties that idea up superbly. The film apparently gets a wider U.S. release in June. Despite its flaws, I think it'll make superb summer entertainment for anyone -- otaku or otherwise -- who likes funny, exciting, imaginative films.
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