de-VICE #2

PAPRIKA: the new anime from satoshi kon - review

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de-VICE #1

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Review published in The Daily Yomiuri (Japan), Saturday November 25th, 2006. By Andrez Bergen.

Paprika spices up the anime aesthetic

Director: Satoshi Kon

Voice cast: Megumi Hayashibara, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Toru Furuya, Mitsuo Iwata, Rikako Aikawa

The opening minutes of Paprika introduce the pivotal character of police detective Konakawa (voiced by Akio Otuska), and his recurring nightmare, which revolves around the spliced-and-looped discovery of a homicide victim.

Director Satoshi Kon then undercuts this traumatic vignette with references to a roll call of Hollywood standards, like Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth, Tarzan the Ape Man, Roman Holiday, and Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, all rolled up into one sweet dream sequence.

It also ushers in the titular character of this exposition.

Paprika is exotic, super-powered, and a femme fatale with a Peter Pan streak. She also doesn't exist.

She's the cerebral flip side of Dr. Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara), the cold and austere head-honcho of a research team that's developed a new gadget called the "DC Mini."

It's a headset that enables Chiba to free-fall into a patient's psyche, hack into their dreams, and record the encounter; she does so under the guise of her far more liberated alter ego, and while the psychotherapeutic medicinal possibilities are an enticement, there's obviously a more alluring impetus in Chiba's case.

Then, stage left, a bunch of DC Mini prototypes are stolen by a mysterious psycho-terrorist, and the unraveling of a sinister tangle of events leaves the fate of the world suspended in the balance.

The movie dips precariously, not only between Chiba's contradictory personas, but between the twin realms of conscious reality, with its natural laws, and that of dreams - where those rules are remolded or rejected entirely.

There are moments here where you could misconstrue this yarn as a remake of Jennifer Lopez's patchy turn-of-the-millennium vehicle The Cell, except that the original story for Paprika was penned in 1993 by Yasutaka Tsutsui, who created that other recent anime hit, Toki o Kakeru Shojo (aka The Girl Who Leapt Through Time).

Kon himself previously helmed the anime movies Perfect Blue (1997), Millennium Actress (2001), and Tokyo Godfathers (2003); he worked closely with Koji Morimoto on the remarkable "Magnetic Rose" segment of Katsuhiro Otomo's anime omnibus Memories in 1995, and co-wrote the screenplay here.

Kon and Tsutsui themselves voice two of the more enigmatic characters - the bartenders Mr. Jinnai and Mr. Kuga - and, even by anime standards, this one's completely out there.

Anybody familiar with outings by Kon, Morimoto, Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Oshii, would appreciate that anime bends the rules of moviemaking, and in Paprika it's like Dr. Seuss has reworked the script and tweaked the visuals for Oshii's thought-provoking Ghost in the Shell (1995).

The film also rates as the most mesmerizing animation long-player since Miyazaki's Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) five years ago, and Kon exhibits an equally playful willingness to pitchfork the texture of the more dramatic moments.

Am I gushing yet?

They're not skimping in the voice actor stakes here - Hayashibara and Koichi Yamadera (Dr. Morio Osanai) previously lent their dulcet tones to two of the most iconographic of recent anime characters, Faye Valentine and Spike Spiegel, in Cowboy Bebop, while Otsuka voiced Batou in the Ghost in the Shell franchise.

Add to this some stunning background art, peerless integration of 2-D and 3-D animation, and some wonderful character designs by Studio Ghibli regular Masashi Ando.

But it's obvious that Kon's forte is in the surreal interaction of reality and dreams - which often drift into nightmares.

The recurring motif of a parade of Japanese cultural knick-knacks (some traditional, and others kitsch, from dancing Kewpie dolls and tin toys to marching sets of samurai armor, torii gates yanked right out of shrines, and the disturbing scaled-down Statue of Liberty from Odaiba) is downright superb.

The movie, in Japanese, opens today.

(Nov. 25, 2006)

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