Anime fans have been waiting to see Satoshi Kon's latest effort, Paprika, since it debuted at last year's Venice Film Festival, where it was up for the Golden Lion award. Since then, the film has played a slew of fests, from the New York Film Festival to Tokyo, from Santa Barbara to Istanbul to AFI Dallas. The film finally gets its theatrical release early this summer (at least in New York and Los Angeles, though if it plays really well in those cities, perhaps the rest of the US will get a chance to see it as well). I caught the film with a packed house at a screening at AFI Dallas, and if that crowd's reaction to the film is any indication, the film should do pretty well here.
The film, based on a novel by Japanese sci-fi master Yasutaka Tsutsui, is a trippy, visually rich tale about a group of private scientists at a research facility who have invented a device called the DC Mini that allows "dream detectives" to enter other people's dreams. At the forefront of the team are Dr. Tokita, the nerdy, obese genius who invented the DC Mini, and Dr. Atsuko Chiba, who, through her alter-ego, code-named "Paprika," is able to explore the unconscious thoughts of those whose dreams she enters using the device. Once there, she can explore the subconscious to help uncover the causes of anxiety and neuroses. Before they can get government approval to authorize official use of the DC Mini, though, one of the prototypes is stolen -- and Dr. Tokita's research assistant, Himuro, conveniently disappears at the same time.
In the hands of someone with nefarious purposes, the device could be devastating, allowing someone to completely erase a victim's personality. But when several researchers start dreaming even while in their waking states, with a strange doll-like figure that was the center of the dreams of a schizophrenic patient featuring in all their dreams, it becomes clear that whoever stole the device is using it to destroy people's minds -- and that those who have had the most exposure to the DC Mini are at greatest risk of being infiltrated, even without wearing the device. Atsuko, largely in her alter-ego persona as sexy, fearless Paprika, must enter the dream world to find out who stole the device -- and why.
Police Detective Konakawa, who has been getting psychiatric treatment for anxiety around an unsolved murder case from Paprika, is called into the case by the lab's Chief, and immediately realizes that Atsuko and Paprika are the same person. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the lab, who has his own agenda, is trying to get the project shut down, and sees the theft of the device as just the leverage he needs. When the dream world starts bleeding over into reality, though, Atsuko and Paprika have to resort to desperate measures to save the world.
Paprika was already an enormously popular literary figure in Japan before Satoshi Kon took on the project to bring her adventures to life on the big screen. The dream sequences, in particular, are so bizarre and so vibrant, that animating them had to be done by someone with enormous vision and creativity. Tsutsui himself asked Kon to bring Paprika to life after seeing the director's feature Millenium Actress; coincidentally, Kon himself was already a fan of Paprika, so it didn't take much convincing for the two artists to work together to bring Paprika to the big screen. Kon simplified a lot of the complex psychological terminology from the source material in bringing Paprika's adventures to life, but at the same time, he created an equally complex visual buffet that sweeps the viewer into the story, while also keeping you guessing whether a given moment is happening in the dream world or reality.
Paprika is visually intense and engaging -- the dream sequences in particular are rife with imagery, cultural references and brilliant colors -- and the storyline keeps you interested to see what's going to happen next. You do have to pay close attention to what's happening, as things move along at a brisk pace and the blurring between dreams and reality gets a bit discombobulating, but overall, Kon has created a worthy homage to Tsutsui's creation. There's so much room to grow within the basic storyline, though, that a complete series for Paprika would seem a fitting follow-up. For now, though anime fans will delight in the creative visuals of Kon's film, and perhaps the broad exposure of this film in markets outside Japan will give Paprika a whole new realm of fans to enjoy her adventures.