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Paprika

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/24/07 11:42:57

"Cluttered and chaotic, but sometimes worth it."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 DEEP FOCUS FILM FESTIVAL: Movies about dreams run a great risk. They can be wild adventures into the imagination, but they can also be cheap, plotless excuses for rambling excess. “Parika,” the latest effort from anime veteran Satoshi Kon, falls somewhere in between.

Kon is no stranger to the dreamy blend of fantasy and reality: “Perfect Blue” and “Millennium Actress” were gorgeous tales of strangeness where reality wasn’t just blurred, it was streaked. After a detour away from the genre (with the wonderful “Tokyo Godfathers”), Kon returns with “Parika.” It’s a visually stunning and highly inventive work, yet the muddled storyline and ultimate lack of character focus leave it a slightly tiresome, if occasionally thrilling, affair.

Perhaps the problem’s in the story itself. Scripted by Kon and Seishi Minakami and adapted from the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, “Paprika” concerns the DC Mini, a headband device that allows others to view and/or enter your dreams. While such a concept has its charms, it feels too forced here - we want to tell a story about dreams getting tangled with reality, the film tells us, but we can’t think of any other way than a clumsy sci-fi plot device. (It doesn’t help that such material has been covered more cleverly dozens of times elsewhere.)

Chiba Atsuko (voiced by Megumi Hayashibara) is a scientist who enters patients’ dreams under the dream-persona Paprika, a bouncy, sexy young woman. When a set of DC Minis are stolen, Atsuko and her cohorts realize the danger, as the DC Minis allow the user to access any psycho-analyzer-thingie in their building. Worse, the device is so powerful that it can even connect to someone while they’re awake, forcing them to insanity, even suicide.

There is, around the edges, a nice little mystery at work. We’re introduced to a detective (Akio Ohtsuka) haunted by an unsolvable murder case, and his interplay with both Atsuko and Paprika makes for some engaging noir-lite moments. A visit to an abandoned theme park suggests clues at a deeper puzzle, while the cop’s own dreams begin to combine with the main fantasy (that of a manic parade led by musical frogs and dancing refrigerators), hinting that the crimes may be connected somehow.

Alas, they are not, and I’m not even it occurred to anyone involved to consider otherwise. What we have is a frustratingly disjointed affair - the mystery of who stole the DC Minis barely matters, and when the culprit is revealed, we’ve gone through so many ups and downs, what with the dreams and the reality and back again, that not only do we not care, but we’re also not completely sold. How do we know this isn’t just some other limp trick, some oh-it’s-just-a-dream-or-is-it gag?

Yet I’m willing to give “Paprika” a slight recommendation anyway. There are many scenes that work in the moment; put them together with the overall movie, and they don’t hold, but on their own, they’re highly entertaining. A running gag involving the cop’s dreams - a collection of old movie clichés - is quite welcome. The secondary characters, including a massively overweight scientist and his diminutive boss, are colorful enough to carry us through. A sense of humor tickles the entire production, resulting in some unexpectedly large laughs throughout.

And while the story may make this Kon’s least inspired film, the animation is his most inspired: every corner of the frame is crammed with massive amounts of colorful detail. It’s here, in this rich, impressive artwork, that the movie truly feels like a dream, and it’s here that the film wins us back. “Paprika” is an example of style over substance in the anime world, but for the most part, it’s just enough style for us to forgive the substance.

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