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AICN Anime - Paprika Preview!

Logo handmade by Bannister Column by Scott Green
Satoshi Kon is justifiably considered one the auteurs of anime, and his study of dreams, Paprika, is sure to reenforce that reputation. The movie is an animated triumph, and anyone who appreciates the medium should make it a point to see what Kon's imagination and study of the human subconscious has produced. Kon's work in animation has never been so creative or gorgeous, but the ideas at work in the film don't necessarily have the resonance of his previous efforts. Paprika might not be a Lynchian "what the hell did I just see" experience, but is also not an accessible gateway to the potential of the medium the way Madhouse's sibling movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time might be. Rather than build off a strong connection with the characters, the reaction is likely to be one of disquiet. Kon's previous films inherited easily navigable roadmaps from the types of stories that they mirrored, whether they were thrillers, holiday feel-goods, procedurals or biographies. Given Kon's trademark attention to the nature of identity, those narratives proved mutable based on the perceptions of their subjects. But, Paprika is directly dream driven. There is a McGuffin, but its pursuit is often convoluted by associative diversions. The events are in no way difficult to follow, even as the protagonists stumble on planted warnings disguised as clues, but there is little certainty to the implications. There is depth and tenderness to the handling of the characters, but often the secondary individuals who shape the events seem like types. The narrative does reach a critical point when an affront forces an emotional reaction. The upsetting barb in the plot seems designed to be acutely provocative. It gives rise to questions, as Kon's works inevitably do, but not personal empathy. This observational detachment is exacerbated by the difficulty divorcing the experience from the craft. While the right brain is taken by the art, the left dissects the images. Even as the film is engulfed by a dream Wonderland, noticing the magic of the creation and motion on screen dominates any personal connection to what is depicted. When it arrived in North America in 1999, Satoshi Kon's Hitchcockian thriller Perfect Blue immediately began raising eyebrows. More often than not, viewers seemed not to know what to make of the story of a pop idol singer who decided to transition into the role of a serious actress, becoming the target of stockers and losing her personal sense of identity in the process. Satoshi Kon's less-idealized character designs lent the work the immediate impression of reality, but the nature of the medium itself still allowed him to blur the line between the concrete factual and the altered perception of the characters. Anime fans may have been ready for that and accustomed to challenging a sense of identity, but Kon still managed to architect a landscape with few firm footholds. Given that there was a sense of reality to its characters, the sexual violence of the movie, the movie's early look at an emergence of a widely read internet and the lack of the solid narrative judgement on the characters' decisions, made Perfect Blue a movie that provoked more questions than definitive opinions. Kon re-engages many of these ideas, including the role of the internet in one's subconscious, for Paprika. As with fellow Madhouse Studios production The Girl Who Left Through Time, Paprika adapts the prose work of Yasutaka Tsutsui. Many Tsutsui stories concern an intrusion of dream logic that highlights the disfunctions of the modern condition. The sensibilities that Kon exhibited in works such as Perfect Blue and Paranoia Agent could not find a better match than Tsutsui, whose short story collection Salmonella Men on Planet Porno is now available in English. Paprika rests on a Philip K. Dick style sci-fi conceit. The DC Mini is a cutting edge technology on the verge of revolutionizing psychotherapy. The device allows an operator to view, record and even enter the dreams of a patient. Unfortunately, the project is severely jeopardized when the units are stolen by what the research foundation labels as a terrorist effort with an inside connection. The crisis becomes critical when the project's overseer, Dr Shima begins spouting nonsense, "Even the five court ladies dance in sync to the frog's flute and drum. The whirlwind of recycled paper was a sight to see..." before jumping out of a fifth story window, in what is quickly diagnosed to be a case of dreams being projected into the minds of one who has previously connected to the DC Mini. Doctor Atsuko Chiba assumes charge in tracking down the missing devices, which have already been condemned as a moral affront and symptom of the arrogance of humanity by the foundation's frail, wheel chair bound chairman. At the same time, she minds the device's morbidly obese inventor, Dr Tokita, trying to get the boyish genius to take responsibility for his creation. Detective Konakawa, still recovering from an anxiety disorder, becomes entangled with the investigation through his connection to the mystery-woman Paprika. Dr Chiba is a pale, constrained woman, marked by insistent formality, tied hair, and conservative dress. This is not an especially effective Clark Kent disguise for her Paprika dream-therapist alter ego. Anyone who knows of both at least suspects that they are one and the same. Stellar Voice work is a key feature of how the movie functions. The cast is filled with highly respected voice actors, including Kouichi Yamadera (Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel, Ghost in the Shell's Togusa), the heavy voiced Akio Ohtsuka (Ghost in the Shell's Batou) as Konakawa and Tohru Furuya best known as the near autistic boy genius pilot Amuro Ray in the original Gundam as Tokita (but also Sailor Moon's Tuxedo Mask, Saint Seiya's Pegasus and Dragon Ball's Yamcha). Dr Chiba/Paprika is voice by the queen of anime voices throughout the 90's, Megumi Hayashibara, whose work includes female Ranma, Slayer's Lina Inverse, the then against-type role of Rei in Neon Genesis Evangelion, Jessie/Musashi in Pokemon and Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop. As Dr Chiba, Hayashibara puts on a real performance as a character who intends to talk in measured tones, but who can become upset, rant, lose spirit, or express great care. As Paprika, Hayashibara is in classic anime character mode. Her exaggerated, high tones fit a wise attitude onto a cute demeanor. If you think of the kind of anime character you'd see on a poster or t-shirt, this is the kind of voice that would be attached to that image. The Paprika character herself is a living pop culture artifact. When sitting still, she takes on her role of therapist, asking probing questions in hopes of revealing the root cause for her patient's troubles, but as the movie's music video like opening credits depicts, her spirit is that of a iconic logo or spokesperson. In jeans and casual shirt, she skips through the city, hopping through billboards, t-shirts, computer screens and the like. She even moves like an idea. While Dr Chiba takes off her shoes, pumps and her arms and runs like a person trying to push their body into their rush, Paprika keeps her elbows stationary like a cartoon schoolgirl when running. Her comfortable ease extends to scenes of acute danger. Confronted face to face in the dream world, she nimbly hops to the side. It's obvious why her troubled patients have little conscious reservation sitting down and talking to her. There's an instant likable to that kind of cool, but even when she does have a sharp quip, she seems entirely unchallenging. Through Tokita's habit creating more DC Mini's rather than face trouble, there is commentary on geek escapism within the movie. However, given that characters respect Paprika rather than fall hard for her, it would seem that the thrust of Kon's message for the movie has little to do with anime fans specifically. Slipping in and out of the subconscious, Paprika proves to be the ideal scalpel for cutting into dreams. Trying to piece together the meaning and language of dreams proves to be a lot like looking into movies. Kon gets into the act to the point of including billboards from his previous works. As Paprika explains to Konakawa, REM dreams are longer, easier to analyze due to their similarities to full length block busters, where as the dreams of earlier sleep periods have the qualities of short artsy films. It's almost obvious that this would be a fertile field for Kon. The nature of dreams intersects with animation in that imagination becomes indistinguishable from reality. This can be as subtle as a strange way of water beading off a windshield. Seeing it in Paprika, one has to wonder whether it is an unusual condition or a factor of a dream experience. Magnified, there is a freedom of associative transition that yields disturbingly confrontational images. The movie's prologue quickly tests ability for thought to turn malignant as Konakawa is rushed by a crowd where every assailant has his own face. The ramblings of Dr Shima referred to a procession of images that leaves an indelible impression throughout its appearances during the film. Kon accumulates an avalanche that convincing could drive people to jump out of windows. This rummage bin of the subconscious calls to mind a famous "monster parade" scene from Pom Poko, an environment talking animals fable from Ghibli's second great director Isao Takahata. The movie follows two clans of tanuki, a mammal frequently described to non-Japanese natives as a "raccoon dog." One of the abilities that legends ascribed to the animals is shape shifting. For their grand effort to halt the destruction of their habitat, Pom Poko's tanuki stage a massive parade of monsters. A spectacle pours forth as the tanuki adopt the shape of various yokai from traditional folklore. Despite the sci-fi nature of the DC Mini, the images employed suggests that the concerns being explored are not future speculations or even specifically modern. Unlike Paprika herself, these seem cumulative rather than products of the current zeitgeist. Paprika becomes adjusted into fantasy guises for excursion into this territory, becoming the monkey king Son Goku, the sphinx, Pinocchio of the like. There is a specific bawdy chorus line in when cell phone headed men in business suits look up the skirts of cell phoned headed teen schoolgirls, and dancing appliances play a prominent role in the parade, but the bulk of the crowd is filled with an absurdist flip on more long standing images. Traditional good luck charms spring around as Japanese temple arcs march with the Statue Of Liberty. Christian and Buddhist icons with undergarments laid over the statues file along together. A scene as simple as Dr Chiba walking or driving can be entrancing given what its minutia says about the character. Watching her posture, the direction of her eyes and how she physically presents her rhetoric in a, pardon the pun, animated conversation is a marvel. When that precise care is turned to convulsing masses of dream figments, the movie moves into masterpiece territory. Design meshes perfectly with the quantity and complexity of motion. For example, Tinkerbell-Paprika's evasive flight is as good as any aerial animation. The environments, structures and creatures of Kon's dream world becomes as well realized as any fantasy kingdom of any moving media. These experiences are etched into memory in no small part thanks to the contribution of electropop musician Susumu Hirasawa, who previously worked with Kon on Paranoia Agent and Millennium Actress. Anime fans might also know the artist from his work on Berserk. The distortion of layered babel chants rest on his march beat for a disturbingly catchy tune. You can't take your eyes of Kon's visuals, but it is Hirasawa that gives the experience its sense of infectious mania. Within its narrative story, Pom Poko's monster parade did not achieve its desired results. The onlookers marveled at the spectacle, puzzled on its origin, and ultimately pushed forward building a housing development on the tanuki's homeland. Scenes of Paprika are deeply effecting, and there is plenty of room for consideration, but it does not force any reevaluations. Dr Chiba's reactions are believable. Konakawa's troubles are intriguing and well developed. Unfortunately, it is too easy to disregard the antagonists as works of fiction, present simply to exacerbate trouble. Their agenda and behavior is the stuff of nightmares, but nightmares that an adult would have no trouble shaking off. Unlike most anime works, even the majority of mature minded ones, Paprika concerns people who are already entrenched in careers. As such, the ambiguity to the deeper implications of the movies events seems to stem from the fact that existential considerations aren't at the forefront of these characters' thoughts. Concerns about what was left behind and how the current point has been reach become funneled through the subconscious. Even with the root causes revealed, it's back to dream image interpretation to unravel the whole story. The the same time, Paprika actively resists imparting well packaged lessons. Tsutsui short stories have an air of creatively expressing deep dissatisfaction through gritted teeth. They can take the form of an apocalyptic rant made under ones breath. Kon's Paprika has tendencies in that direction, but it isn't nearly as caustic or as direct. It doesn't explicitly indict anything. The mentions of terrorism work into a trend where the speeches that offer preaching sermons are points where red flags call for a skeptical approach.
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