Friday, 6 July 2007

Paprika (2006)

This is anime on brains!

It's all a matter of timing and missed chances, but if things had happened just slightly differently, Singaporeans would have the opportunity to watch two Japanese animations at the same time in cinemas, both adaptations of novels by science fiction author Yasutaka Tsutsui. I cannot recommend more highly Mr Tsutsui as the preeminent modern writer of his generation, whose prose smashes together science fiction, social critique, dark satire, and groundbreaking originality. And I cannot recommend more highly the recently concluded The girl who leapt through time as well as Paprika to any animation fan. Unlike the first movie which was a readaptation of a fluffy Yasutaka Tsutsui novel, Paprika is an adaptation by a director whose last 3 anime projects subjected Japanese society to a playful yet sharp comic satire, of a novel whose author wasn't in a fluff-piece writing mood. In other words, dear reader, you have been warned: Paprika is the highest order of anime and science fiction to come out of Japan this decade, and will thoroughly disabuse audiences of any impression of the childish, childlike, or geeky nature of Japanese animation.

The story begins when the prototypes of an experimental device that allows psychoanalysts to enter and participate in the dreams of their subjects is stolen. An inside job, this theft must be taken care of by the inventor of the device and his research team before the somewhat illegal project is halted either by the conservative chairman of the board, a police discovery of the theft and illegal research, or a demonstration of the psychological warfare capabilities of the dream device by terrorists. However, the investigation that takes place in the real world isn't quite the story that we watch in Paprika. The interesting thing is how Tsutsui's novel takes the standard investigative narrative model and tosses it away - after all, if the villains have stolen a device that enables people to enter into others' dreams, with the intention of driving the world insane, why not have the investigation start from tracking down the perpetrators through the dreams of their victims? And since this is an animated movie, why not make Dr Atsuko Chiba the chief researcher the most proficient user of the device, complete with her own alter-ego (the Paprika of the title) in the dream world that she steps in and out of?

So even as the movie dances around the in between space of dreaming and waking, sanity and madness, the plot is driven by an inexorable logic that makes its zaniness and far-out surrealism bearable and even comprehensible. Clearly Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Paranoia Agent), with his brilliant obsession with making movie that blur reality and fiction, is the perfect director to trust the adaptation to, and he doesn't disappoint here. The director continues his meditation on film from Millennium Actress, adding a new layer that resonates with the theme of liminality in the original novel, by having the investigation take place parallel to Dr Atsuko and Paprika's counselling of a policeman plagued by recurring dreams that take off from the movies? Ah, such sweet, intoxicating cleverness and insanity!

While regular watchers of anime will not be surprised with how Paprika plays out (plot points may be a tad predictable), the surprising thing is how the plot is executed, and how the story is animated. Simply put, this movie is full of mind-blowing images that are a proof of a genius the apex of his powers: Satoshi Kon manages to fashion the raw chaos of dreams into an animated art. I'd advise audiences to be fully rested before they enter the cinema, because the visuals in this film demand your absolute attention in order for you to appreciate their inspired brilliance and hilarity. While it is a 2D animation, Paprika is convincing proof that 3D CGI will never supplant its place completely; the entire movie itself is a showcase of the unique power of 2D animation to depict and evoke the sense of the fantastic that 3D CGI animators, with their trend towards 'realism', have all but given up on.

It is fortunate that a deep writer like Yasutaka Tsutsui can be paired with an equally imaginative and daring director like Satoshi Kon, and joined with the luminary voice talents of Megumi Hayashibara in this animated project. Paprika is a visual spectacle, full of creative images and creative imaginings - it is a must-watch for all animation fans.

First published at incinemas on 19 July 2007

1 comment:

kemp.samurai said...

My thought of the movie is that while it's subject is dreams, Kon-sama made a dream out of a movie. It's so overwhelmingly intricate that you can't possibly describe it like anything else - to quote a '30s era movie maker "You can't describe it. Seeing is believing.". When I finished watching it the first time, I thought that I was asleep the whole time, and that the movie was a fleeting dream that I was trying to hold onto but couldn't.

(I'm currently trying to make an amateur translation of the book.)