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