Synopsis: Prepare to enter the realm of fantasy and imagination – where reality and dreams collide in a kaleidoscopic mindscape of sheer visual genius. The magical tale centers on a revolutionary machine that allows scientists to enter and record a subject’s dream. After it is stolen, a fearless detective and brilliant therapist join forces to recover the device before it falls into the hands of a “dream terrorist” in this gripping anime thriller from acclaimed director Satoshi Kon.
eyelights: its rich, surrealistic animation. its mind-bending plot. its storytelling.
eyesores: its mind-bending plot.
“Time for the greatest show on earth!”
Satoshi Kon was one of the animation world’s greatest directors. Though he’s made only a few motion pictures, each is distinct and breaks out of genres usually associated with anime and animated films in general. He often tended towards the understated, focusing on his characters above the artifice.
In essence, animation was merely a flexible medium for him to use.
In 2008, Kon changed gears slightly and decided to offer audiences a spectacle; with ‘Papurika’, he dished out a smorgasbord of popping visuals. But he did it with a twist: he wrapped it up in the exploration of lucid dreams and the merging of dreamstates with reality. It was a mind-bender.
The plot is simple: a psychiatric clinic is working with an experimental device called the DC Mini to interact with their patients in their dreams. One day, though, it is stolen by an unknown entity who uses it to connect with anyone whose been in contact with their in-house psychiatry machines.
Soon this dream terrorist is not only tapping into people’s subconscious, they’re being trapped inside their lucid dreams, affected by madness. The only person capable of stopping this person is Dr. Chiba, whose dream personality, Paprika, has already been navigating the dream world.
But she must make haste: the terrorist is gaining power; dream and reality are merging.
‘Papurika’ is what ‘Inception‘ should have been. Though Christopher Nolan’s film is also a mind-bender, it was surprisingly limited in scope: all the dreamstates were reflections of real-world experiences. I got so bloody tired of gun fights and car chases, given that dreams can be anything.
Was that the best he could do? Is that all he could imagine?
This picture is a much better reflection of what dreams are like: ever-changing, fluid, mesmerizing, ungrounded in reality – even when they reflect reality, they can turn on a dime. It’s your mind unleashing a little bit of madness, releasing itself of its daily structures and routines.
In ‘Papurika’, dreamstates are comically insane: settings shift dramatically, things change shapes/morph, inanimate objects animate, characters take on new roles despite themselves, people spew out utter nonsense with confidence and intention, and behaviours defy all reason.
But tumbling into that delirium can be dangerous – anything can happen. Sometimes, you don’t make it back. In fact, Dr. Chiba comes close to the edge a few times as Paprika tries to track down the culprit. And, as reality and dreams merge more and more, the risks become greater.
Really, the reason to watch ‘Paprika’ is for the experience. The animation and the imagery are stunning, especially during (but not limited to) the dream sequences: the parade of mad dream creatures is particularly memorable and it grows in scope as the dream terrorist gains power.
But there are more innocuous moments that leave an imprint, like when Captain Konakawa flips from one movie scene to the next, taking on the roles of various heroes, or when Paprika inflates a victim as one would a large balloon and then pops that balloon in order to release him.
The dreams are always reflections of the characters, which is also quite cool. For instance, Konakawa’s dreams are based in past regret at not becoming a filmmaker, and Chiba’s colleague, Dr. Tokita, dreams of being a toy robot due to, though being a genius, having a childlike mentality.
The visuals are fully complemented by a superb soundscape – not just with respect to its ground-breaking score, but also because of its immersive surround experience. I watched this on blu-ray and, let me tell you, it was quite a treat. It’s exactly what you’d hope for from this kind of film.
The mystery is pretty rudimentary, however; the culprit isn’t too hard to find and Dr. Chiba makes her discovery much earlier than in most of these films. However, it’s constructed in such a way that I still had a difficult time keeping the pieces together in my mind. It took three viewings.
(Three separate viewings over a few years, mind you!)
I didn’t have that problem with ‘Inception’.
‘Papurika’ is quite an experience, an intellectual challenge and an aesthetic feast. And yet it’s my least favourite of Kon’s films because it lacks the emotional richness of the others; sadly, the characters’ internal layers aren’t peeled away as intently as they are in his other pictures.
It’s nonetheless a wonder to behold. It’s a motion picture that’s difficult to forget, even as it can be difficult to grasp. That it was made in animation is both a testament to Kon’s ability as a storyteller and to the medium, which is far more expansive than North American audiences think.
Sadly, Satoshi Kon left us too soon. In 2010, at the age of 46, he suddenly passed away, leaving ‘Dreaming Kids’, his next feature film, unproduced. It’s a terrible loss, as one can only imagine the splendour he would have painted across our screens over a longer career. What a shame.
RIP Satoshi Kon.
Thank you for what you gave us in your short life.
Date of viewing: December 3, 2017