Thursday, March 4, 2010

Paprika - Dreamscape

In the near future, a revolutionary new psychotherapy treatment called PT has been invented. Through a device called the "DC Mini" it is able to act as a "dream detective" to enter into people's dreams and explore their unconscious thoughts. Before the government can pass a bill authorizing the use of such advanced psychiatric technology, one of the prototypes is stolen, sending the research facility into an uproar. In the wrong hands, the potential misuse of the device could be devastating, allowing the user to completely annihilate a dreamer's personality while they are asleep. Renowned scientist, Dr. Atsuko Chiba, enters the dream world under her exotic alter-ego, code name "PAPRIKA," in an attempt to discover who is behind the plot to undermine the new invention.

Paprika, Satoshi Kon’s (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers) latest movie, is a whimsical and imaginative journey into the concept of dreaming. As with each of his productions, Paprika is a distinctly unique and fresh film, while also retaining tones of Satoshi Kon’s usual quirkiness and style. While this is a film that revolves around exploration into the farthest reaches of human subconscious, it has traded the introverted and claustrophobic psychological tension seen in Perfect Blue for a decidedly free and open approach to the human mind, fitting with the theme of the limitless expanse of dreaming. This gives it a more relaxed and fun feel, whilst also retaining its depth and profoundness. In quite the same way as Tokyo Godfathers was, paradoxically, a light-hearted melodrama, this film is an accomplished juxtaposition of emotion, as the dark themes of jealousy and hatred are played out in the hallucinatory escapism of the dreamscape.
PaprikaTokyo GodfathersPerfect Blue
Dreams as a concept have always captivated me, and never before have I seen such a well-done representation of dreams in any form of media. Movies usually treat them as either being pointlessly strange, or pointedly symbolic, but Paprika captures their essence to fascinating effect. Dreams are as much about flow and direction as they are about the immediate situation, and this is something very apparent when watching Paprika, as the dreams flow and change fascinatingly with mundane illogic, moving from one setting to another with only a thematic thread between them. Looking back at my own dreams and how they shift from setting to setting based on the emotional context, and I see that Paprika portrays this perfectly. I can see that the dream sequences were thoughtfully brought to life, and were not just crazy for the sake of crazy. But through all its fanciful imagery and creativity unbound from realism, Paprika has a story behind it that deals with very strong human emotions, and it excellently weaves this emotional content throughout the films, particularly in the dream sequences, where the subconscious expresses the truth behind each character’s external, day-to-day personality.

The way it tells this story is simultaneously a strength and a flaw of the film; on the one hand I am inclined to say that it was obfuscatory in the way it obscured the plot from the viewer. While watching this movie I felt like I was trying to get my head around a particularly long riddle. As I followed it, the only understanding I really got of what was actually going on was in retrospect, and while some may call this clever, I found that not having an idea of the direction of the plot was a detriment. However, given that the movie revolves around the theme of dream analysis, it is also a fitting method of storytelling: the audience itself has to engage in the movie as though it were analysing a dream, and hence can only be understood when looking back at it. However, my advice to anyone planning to watch the movie: pay close attention to the dialogue and symbology of the dreams, because it is all too easy to get caught up in the zany fun of the dream sequences and lose track of the plot.

When it comes to the plot itself, I’m not so enthusiastic. Nor am I so aflame with praise when it comes to the characterization. Both of these factors are the reasons why I am hesitant to label it as my favorite Satoshi Kon film; Tokyo Godfathers had excellent characterization, and a simple yet powerful story; and Perfect Blue, with its introverted character study, delivered a great emotional impact. It may well be impossible to create a perfect film, but if these factors had been better incorporated into Paprika, then it would be among my favorite anime films, possibly my very favorite. It is a shame that Satoshi Kon’s vision and creativity is let down by a lack of depth in his characters and stories now, after his consistent accomplishments in the past. I think the main problem was that the movie tried to involve a too larger cast, to whom it could not provide ample depth in its limited feature-length time-frame. The other problem was that there was very little attention given to delivering a sense of conflict, a crucial element to any story. Perfect Blue had the internal conflict of the subconscious and the conscious; Tokyo Godfathers had conflict between its characters and society; and this movie tries to incorporate an antagonist-protagonist conflict, almost as an afterthought, with neither party given enough profundity to their perspectives to make the conflict intense. There was mention of their different ideology when it comes to the exploration of dreams, and a subplot of jealousy, but little more. So the story lacks the optimal ‘beginning -> conflict -> end’ structure, meaning it felt like it just went on and on until it finished, as entertaining as it was.

I have little to say about the technical achievements behind this film, other than the fact that it was fantastic in almost all aspects, with only the score music lacking. It is clear he used the same musical producer behind Paranoia Agent’s score track, and I simply cannot find his style of music appealing; it feels immature and cannot contribute effectively to the mood of the movie. Much better was the use of music in Perfect Blue, the score of which really sold the hauntingly intense atmosphere. The visuals are much better; this is his best looking film yet, with vivid animation and, as expected, brilliant direction.

It was not given enough weight, but I liked the message that dreams are the final sanctity of the human mind, which should not be intruded upon. This movie beautifies dreams, and attaches importance to them (as seen in Atsuko’s acknowledgement of her feelings for Dr. Torataro through her subconscious), and the suggestion that veil between them and reality is sacred really spoke to me, even if it came from the mouth of the antagonist. Paprika is a thoroughly enjoyable, visually captivating movie, which does overwhelming justice to its theme of dreaming, but which has flaws in its plot and characters that prevent it from being a great achievement as a film.


Awesomely eerie instrumental.