|A Love Letter|
I almost don't want to write this review; finishing it might result in me being able to move past Paprika, and it's simply something I don't want to do. It's rare for a movie to come along that's smart, rarely overwritten, filled with well-realized and memorable characters, and yet is still frothing with effervescent fun. Paprika is all of these things, and alongside all of that, it's a joy simply to see and hear.
Normally, the score, cinematography, and art would come towards the end of my review; even in most animated films, these ideas are supporting a narrative core. However, if Paprika were a film with no dialogue or performances, it would still be an absolute joy. The film's core plot uses dreams as a sandbox to allow artistic desire to outweigh physics or logic. The opening credits turn a Japanese city into a playground for our starlet Paprika as she dances from truck logos to the skies, into our computer screens and onto a gentleman's t-shirt. The inventiveness of animation never fades from Paprika, and while its most upbeat use is certainly these opening credits, the visual experience is something to be cherished. Another sequence involving a dream-based toy parade is extremely detailed and beautifully animated, and is by far one of the most recognizable images from the film. Madhouse does an excellent job with the character designs, too, allowing for more rigid individuals to maintain more traditional faces, while those with more playful spirits are drawn with more abstraction and surrealism. Every moment of Paprika is a joy to look at, and I would not hesitate to call it a landmark in modern cel-animation.
Above: Paprika's Opening Credits, accompanied by "Meditation Field" by Susumu Hirawasa.
As a silent film, however, Paprika would lose one of its absolute greatest assets; its brilliant use of music and sound effects. What few sound effects are replicated throughout the film are iconic sounds instantly recognizable by those who resonate with them. The music is an essential part of the film, as well; the opening credits are accompanied by a theme played throughout, and it's an absolutely stunning song that gives the animation and characters much of their energy. Its counterpart, a theme that plays during the parade scenes, is just as effective, and while other themes are played throughout the film, these two drive the film almost as much as its characters.
And what characters we are given. The film opens on Detective Konokawa (Akio Ōtsuka) receiving dream psychotherapy treatment from our protagonist Paprika (Megumi Hayashibara, in one of her best performances I've yet seen) and the film instantly lays bare his psychological stresses. A mystery unfolds parallel to the mystery of his psychotherapy, but Konokawa's story is thematically focused on the art of filmmaking. It's a touching tribute by its finish. It's also one that is notably shifted from the book; based on what research I've done on the book, Konokawa's role in the book is replaced by that of a car salesman executive suffering from anxiety related to his marriage.
Paprika, herself, is mysteriously grafted and interrelated to the personage of Atsuko Chiba, a psychotherapist involved with the development of the "DC Mini", the dream sharing device Paprika uses to share dreams with Konokawa. Unfortunately, three of these devices have been stolen from the research facility at which Atsuko works and are abused by terrorists. This mystery, too, lays its clues quite clearly for those paying attention, but the steps in which it plays out are fascinating. After the mysteries conclude, the film takes a full-on dive into dream logic, and those who need to know what's occurring in a film with concrete surety may be incredibly frustrated by this section. As a fan of dream sequences and dream logic, I found this to perhaps be the highlight of the film, and it all resolves before things ever get too weird.
The script is also worth praising, as it's often extremely funny and cutting. This is certainly the work of an auteur, and Satoshi Kon has done a good job of layering his intentions throughout the film. It's evident quickly in this film that Kon is inspired by the anime classics Akira and Spirited Away through the visual designs and depth of language. But, unlike Akira, Paprika manages to remain a more cohesive piece and is comprehensible on the first viewing.
I don't mean to gush and act as though the film is perfect. At times it can be overwritten. Unlike Akira, there are many dialogue shots drawn through the unfortunate "still shot with lips moving" conceit. And, perhaps most notably, the English dub is terrible, so those viewing this film will have to stick with subtitles for now. But, for those who have given their hearts to filmmaking or animation, Paprika is perhaps one of the greatest gifts the silver screen will ever give you. And if not, it's still an absolute treat to experience.