While manically upbeat music plays, a Sgt. Peppers-like parade of brightly colored household appliances moves down a city street. A refrigerator opens and shuts its door like a waving dignitary as a microwave rides on top like a piggybacking youngster. Following the cords of the appliances, which drag along behind like tails, comes a group of wide-eyed trumpeting toads and mounds of dolls with eerie, glazed over expressions. This is one of many frequently repeating surreal scenes in the new Japanese import Paprika, an animated feature film that comes on like anime on an acid trip.
Despite at first seeming like a baffling collection of disconcerting sequences, there is a sturdy plot buried underneath all the strangeness of Paprika. It involves the search for a missing contraption called the DC Mini. Looking like a small hook studded with thorns, the DC Mini allows individuals to enter the dreams of others. Until recently, the DC Mini was being used by doctors at the Foundation of Psychiatric Research to develop a deeper connection with their patients, but as the film starts, three pieces of the new technology are discovered missing and, possibly, within the hands of a terrorist.
A group of scientists including the laboratory’s chief, the pudgy inventor of the DC Mini Dr. Tokita and a striking female scientist named Dr. Atsuko Chiba embark on a chase through reality and the dream world to try and find those who possesses the DC Mini and stop them from trespassing into other people’s dreams. While dreaming, Chiba can develop into Paprika, a red-haired pixie who rides on clouds and is like a superhero in the subconscious.
Like other films concerning dreams and reality, Paprika uses the timeworn convention of blurring the boundaries between the two. Recalling movies including the Nightmare on Elm Street series, the director loves letting his characters believe they are safe in reality before they come to the jarring conclusion that they are still trapped in a dream world. Usually, the viewer can detect that a character is still asleep if they encounter someone spurting a fountain of non-sequiturs like: “they need to fully realize the liver of the triangle rulers.”
The many strange scenes from the dream world are sure to make Paprika a cult hit with those that enjoy mind warping, adult-themed animated fare like Richard Linklater’s Waking Life. And, like Waking Life, one of the strongest aspects of Paprika is the philosophical musings that season the film. There is much to ponder here like Paprika’s statement that dreams and the Internet are “where the repressed conscious mind vents.” Also, particularly interesting are the opinions of the chairman of the Foundation of Psychiatric Research who believes that dreams are a sanctuary in an inhumane world that should not be punctured by technology or reality.
PAPRIKA ( * * * )
Directed by Satoshi Kon • Starring the voices of Megumi Hayashibara and Toru Furuya • R, 90 min. • At the Osio Cinemas.