Warning: Paprika contains “dream sequences”

I did indeed spend my Monday night entertainment hours on the Duke campus, but not at the Karl Rove speech. Instead, Mark and I went to a screening of the anime movie Paprika. It came out in 2006 and has been one of those movies that everyone I know has heard of and has been asking if I’ve seen it. Up until Monday, I hadn’t, and it was starting to bug me. So, when I saw that it would be showing as the final movie in the CineEast series at Duke, I made a note to go.

What I knew about the movie before I went: Many people were comparing it to Appleseed, another sci-fi anime movie that came out in 2004. Mark also thought he remembered hearing that Paprika was actually set in the Appleseed world. The description of the movie in the email announcement I got opened with, “Following its own brand of dream logic, Paprika is an eye-opening mind trip that never fails to dazzle.”

I am now developing a theory, which becomes more robust with each test, that any movie advertised as having “dream sequences,” “dream-like sequences,” “dream logic,” and other related “dream”-y properties can have its description more accurately translated to mean “will look and feel like you’ve heard acid trips described.” I’m not really saying the movie was bad, just really, really weird. (And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Appleseed, other than the fact that they are both anime movies with pretty animation and good soundtracks.)

In what follows, I will give a more in depth review of the actual movie and its content, but I’m warning you now that I’m not worried about spoilers, because honestly, the plot isn’t particularly important to the movie.

The basic premise is this: There is a group of brilliant scientists/psychotherapists working on a device, the DC Mini, that will allow them to travel into and record their patients’ dreams for a new kind of therapy. (Vaguely like the premise of The Cell, except without the sado-masochistic serial killer and Jennifer Lopez’s rear end.) We don’t actually really see much of this therapy in action, though, because the first thing that happens is the team finds out that a prototype of the device has been stolen. Without the control software, because it hadn’t been added yet. You know what that means! The DC Mini can now be used by this clearly unscrupulous terrorist to invade the minds of any doctor or patient plugged into any other “dream machine” computer anywhere. Which he promptly does while the conversation about this very possibility is taking place, to the leader of the project, no less.

The rest of the plot revolves around trying to find the culprit and having to go into the very bizarre, tripped out, ever-expanding dream world that keeps eating people’s minds in order to defeat said bad guy. But as I said, the plot’s not really important. Most of the movie revolves around the female scientist, Dr. Chiba, and her very talented dream alter-ego, the titular Paprika, “the woman of every man’s dreams.” And really, Paprika is very cool. Sassy, cute, able to manipulate the mechanics of the dream world effortlessly, seemingly invincible. Many of the best scenes in the movie are her running around the dream world, jumping from street, to the picture on someone’s t-shirt, to the scene pictured in the poster on the side of a building, not to mention flying around on a cloud, wearing a cape and carrying a spear. If what you’re after is visuals, there’s certainly a lot going for the movie here.

What the movie is plagued by, though, is the writer and/or director’s apparent desire to use the dream landscape to discuss every issue he could think of. Latent homophobia? Check. Otaku fascination with dolls? Check. Repressed desire by almost every character for some other character? Check. The similarities between the dream world and the internet? Check. The need to find balance between real world and dream world personas? Check. Weird, non-sexual rape fantasy? Check. Power dynamics between men and women? Check. Jealousy inspired by the genius of others? Check. Science vs. the “natural” world? Check. If it’s a psychological issue and can possibly be represented by visual action or symbolism, it’s probably here. Unfortunately, as a result, none of them are really explored, and they all just end up kind of being there to no real particular purpose.

Maybe the story the movie is based on dealt with these issues more clearly. Maybe some of these things were added in later, for more “spice.” Maybe I’m just being overly critical (although this review seems to have noted some of the same problems.) In any case, “confusing” and “chaotic” are two words that seem to fit this movie, in addition to the “gorgeous” and “dazzling” more frequently seen in other mainstream reviews. By the end of the movie, the bad guy has been confronted, the dream world brought back under control, the side plot with the troubled police detective has been psychologically resolved, and Dr. Chiba/Paprika has finally fused both aspects of her personality and admitted her love interest. All in under two hours!

+ Paprika contains fabulously pretty animation, a fun main character, some interesting ideas, an excellent soundtrack, and the charming bizarreness we have come to expect from a certain type of Japanese import, that stretches the imagination in new ways, provided you suspend all disbelief and go with the flow.

Paprika also contains freaky dreamscapes with a vaguely menacing, utterly manic parade of inanimate objects (sort of like a Disney parade gone wrong), creepy dolls, and either too much or too little plot, depending on your perspective.

I think, in the end, I’d probably recommend that anime fans see it, but I, for one, don’t feel a need to own it.

-posted by Dana

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5 Responses to Warning: Paprika contains “dream sequences”

  1. […] 5, 2007 by Dana I have posted my review of Paprika over at Geek Buffet. It is a strange, strange movie. Pretty, though. On the weirder end of […]

  2. Evan Torner says:

    Since Paprika is quickly becoming one of my favorite anime films, but I’m too preoccupied with writing about other films for school to write as extensive a review, my questions in response are these:

    * How are the film’s cons (i.e. freaky dreamscapes, etc.) really cons? I mean, the film strays into David Lynch territory quite a bit, which is absolutely nothing to its discredit. The fact that objects, dolls and landscapes within the film disturb you is a testament to the film’s success as an effective affective work of art.

    * How does one achieve a quantity of plot (i.e. too much or too little)? Does the Maltese Falcon contain too much plot, whereas Koyaanisqatsi contain too little? One of Paprika’s many strengths is that it establishes a tight, concentric group of characters and never departs from their realities/dreams. Satoshi Kon realized that there was enough material in the pathos of each character to make the sci-fi premise take its characteristic turn toward going horribly awry.

    * I believe that the critique of Kon’s lack of purpose in trying to bring up any/every topic that comes to mind elides the rich mess of visual, aural and intertextual reality and fantasy that he has so meticulously created. Postmodernity is a duality in this film, with its negative aspect (the crazed parade, the collapse of value systems in the face of fanaticism or desire) and its positive aspect (the ability to work through your problems by creating your dream as film, the ridiculous/seductive idea of having Paprika the Baby suck her boss’ essence dry and save the world). The film world is a creative space, not a lock-step thematic exploration.

  3. Dana says:

    Oh, I can certainly see your point, Evan. When I was thinking about the movie later, I found myself thinking that it would probably be a great movie for analysis and use in a class. Given that that is exactly your field, you are perhaps the best audience for this type of movie. But for me, a person who doesn’t engage in film analysis on a regular basis and is no longer in a position that requires lesson planning or writing papers, I didn’t find it to be the kind of movie that I would necessarily watch multiple times just because it was raining out and I was looking for some easy entertainment.

    (Also, I used to be plagued by a repetitive nightmare of a chaotic jumble chasing me, and I grew up with a cousin who was terrified of dolls, even the non-creepy ones, so I’m sort of inclined to see those things negatively, where others might find them to be more interestingly scary.)

    If you do find yourself with more time to give us more of your thoughts on the movie, please do!

  4. […] (After much lurking in the shadows and posting the occasional odd comment such as this one or that one, I have decided to make my initial post as a full-fledged contributor to Geek Buffet. I promise […]

  5. Jonathan says:

    i bought this movie not too long ago and i had watched it once before. i understood the whole concept of the dream world merging with reality as in means of anything being kept secret ultimatly will be revealed, since i do believe that dreams do play a vital role in what the sub-consicious may be trying to say or just overall just displays about a persons character. i would have liked the movie to go more in depth about the symbolism since i knew it was there,although i couldnt really grab onto it. it is definently something i would love to look at multiple times and try to analize.it’s a good movie for that and i did enjoy the the visuals as well, but i think i would like it a lot more if i had a better understanding of the movie and new exactly what everything meant.

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