Sunday, October 07, 2007


A couple weeks ago I saw Satoshi Kon's most recent anime, Paprika, on the big screen, and I was so impressed by my first viewing that I went to see it again. Below are some thoughts on the film, not organized enough to qualify as a review. (This was mainly written a few days after seeing the film, but I didn't get around to posting it until now).

Paprika is definitely the weirdest anime Kon has made, and that includes Paranoia Agent. All of his anime, except Tokyo Godfathers (if my memory is correct) have involved some sort of blurring between reality and fantasies or dreams, but he takes this farther in Paprika than ever before. It's also creepy as hell, especially on a first viewing. A lot of the credit for this creepiness goes to the soundtrack, which is one of the most effective I've heard.

One of the creepiest things about it is the procession seen on the posters, which looks whimsical and festive on the posters but gives a completely different impression in the film. This procession plays a major role in the film. Two other recent, highly acclaimed anime feature films also contain processions: in Spirited Away, the procession of gods displays Japan's spiritual past, while the festive procession in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence represents a cyberpunk future. Though these processions are very different from each other, each is harmonious in its own way. In contrast, the procession in Paprika is a chaotic jumble of everyday artifacts, pop culture and kitsch.

Paprika can be compared with Miyazaki in another way as well. Miyazaki presents the values of the past as an alternative to present-day commercialized mass society. All of Kon's previous anime, again with the exception of Tokyo Godfathers, depict the temptation to escape from a complicated present to a simpler, fondly remembered past, but this temptation is always something that needs to be resisted. While this theme appears more obliquely in Paprika, the film is emphatic that the solution to the misuse of technology is not to ban technology or to return to nature.

Although not ostensibly about movies, in fact movies are a major theme of Paprika. The entire plot of Paprika revolves around the dangers posed by shared dreams, and movies are shared dreams. This connection is made explicit several times. Paprika, the dream-travelling therapist who gives the movie its title, compares dreams to movies, and her client Konakawa's dream contains scenes modelled on various movies. Later, Paprika is shown watching Konakawa's dream projected on the screen in a movie theater. Does the irresponsible "kid trapped in the body of a genius" who, without thinking of the dangers, invents the machine that allows people to see and enter other's dreams represent Kon himself? And who does the evil "mastermind" who wants to control the world by controlling people's dreams represent?

Watching the movie a second time made its flaws more evident. Kon touches on a large number of themes, but in a scattershot fashion, as most of them are hardly developed: it's as if Kon was trying to cram the thematic breadth of the 13-episode Paranoia Agent into a ninety-minute movie. Konakawa's subplot is hardly deserving of all the time the movie spends on it. The characterizations are rudimentary: all the characters, even Paprika, are essentially types rather than individuals. And the ending, while impressive visually, makes no sense (although this is virtually an anime tradition). Paranoia Agent is still Kon's best work. But despite these flaws, I definitely recommend watching Paprika, on the big screen if possible.

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