Directed by Satoshi Kon. Screenplay by Seishi Minakami and Satoshi Kon. Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Some movies are hard to watch, not because they’re bad, but just because they’re different than what you’ve seen before. I’ve seen very little true anime in my time, and I struggled at times with Paprika. My impression of the movie was that it requires some effort of the viewer, but that may not be the case if you’re more familiar with the conventions of the genre. I say this not as a critiicism, just as an upfront acknowledgment of my shortcomings as a reviewer in this case.
That said, I enjoyed the film. It’s a crazily inventive story, about machines that allows psychologists to enter their patients’ dreams. The best of these therapists is a mysterious, free-spirited girl named Paprika, who is in the process of treating a stressed-out cop when she hears that three of the machines have been stolen. She attempts to retrieve the devices, and discover the identity of the thief, but discovers that the dreams of her and her colleagues are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from reality.
As one would expect, this leads to a lot of philosophical discussions about the true nature of dreams and reality, and in truth the movie is sometimes overly ponderous. And as I alluded to above, I occasionally had problems following the story, although the broad outlines seemed clear enough. For example, I didn’t really understand the connection the movie was trying to make between dreams and the Internet.
On the other hand, though, I thought the movie did a better job than most at capturing what the feeling of dreaming is actually like. So many movies present their characters’ dreams as vivid and life-like – nearly indistinguishable from reality – but dreams aren’t really like that. At least mine aren’t. They always feel vivid and life-like while they’re happening, but when I wake up, I realize that people and places in my dreams were nothing like what they’re actually like in real life. Even pleasant dreams often feel confusing and disorienting to me. I felt like the filmmakers understood this; it’s easy for us to tell what’s real and what’s a dream in the film, but the characters themselves are never really sure.
A few sequences are a lot of fun. The opening title sequence, for one, was really cool, combining the freedom of a dreamscape with the freedom of animation as a filmmaking technique. A later chase sequence is as exhilarating as any other action sequence I’m likely to see anytime soon. And the score is perfect for the material, made up mostly of electronic blips and bleeps but sounding like something floating in the clouds. There’s a sequence when Paprika is floating down from the sky that probably caused this association, and it’s the perfect marriage of image and sound.
So, make of all this what you will. If you’re a fan of Satoshi or anime in general, you’re probably rolling your eyes at my ignorant appraisal. If you’re not, I’m probably not going to convince you to see it. I’m glad I went to see it, though.