"I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're going and then hook up with them later." - Mitch Hedberg
Most of Satoshi Kon's animated films ("Perfect Blue", "Millennium Actress" etc) feature non-linear narratives which deftly merge pasts, presents, futures, dreams, fantasies and realities. His final feature, "Paprika", is no different.
Though confusing at first glance, peel back its many layers and "Paprika" offers a fairly simple tale. Here we have a repressed psychologist who "enters the dreams" of patients in order to "fix them" and "make them more ordered". To do so, she creates a fantasy heroine called Paprika, a pixie-girl who embodies all the qualities the psychologist wishes she herself possessed. The irony of creating a fantasy to destroy the fantasies of others is lost on the psychologist.
Next we have three emasculated men, one clinically obese, one wheelchair bound and one a police officer. The wheelchair bound figure seeks to symbolically "destroy all those who meddle with dreams". Why? Because dreams have become his chief means of achieving happiness, fulfilment and self-actualisation. Burnt by life, he depends heavily on, and retreats further into, his carefully groomed dreamscapes. Needless to say, Kon's "dreams" serve as metaphors for a wide range of "things". They represent everything from internet chat rooms to video games, movies, TV, drugs, sex, prostitutes, food and so on. His "dreams", then, are representative of any all human escapes or coping mechanisms.
The cop, meanwhile, enters various dreams as a means of curbing his real life anxieties. Ingeniously, his meetings with Paprika occur in seedy locales, their psychoanalysis sessions resembling sexual liaisons with escorts or call girls. Other characters include a socially withdrawn computer programmer (symbolic of Japan's Hikkomori) and an assistant who acts out various rape fantasies. Virtually all the film's characters are psycho-socially messed up (nods to addictions, masturbation, alienation etc), Kon alluding to a Japan in which modern techno-capitalism has bred all manners of perversions and dysfunctions. The film's dream sequences, most of which feature a mysterious "marching band", are themselves packed with symbolic references to Japanese culture (lots of consumer objects, politicians, religious symbols etc). Elsewhere, billboards, advertisements and the glittery snake-oils of a hyper-consumerist culture bleed incessantly into and out of one another. Every commercial, jingle or pop-song is but another fantasy to be flirted with or discarded. By the film's ends, the dangers of fantasy (the social disconnection, violence, extreme egoism, sexism or misogyny they foster) are acknowledged, but also the emancipatory power of "dreams" as well, be they an individual or communal activity.
Aesthetically, "Paprika" is strong, with mind-bending visuals and a memorable score. This being a Japanese animation, there's the obligatory tentacle-rape sequence, a bizarre fetish which goes all the way back to Hokusai's "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife", and perhaps further. "Paprika's" climax is somewhat derivative, with its generic light-shows and gigantic apparitions, but it's nevertheless Satoshi Kon's strongest feature since "Perfect Blue". See "Existenz", "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time", "The Sky Crawlers", Sang-ho Yeon's "The King of Pigs" and "Demonlover".
8/10 – Worth two viewings.
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