If I were to give a title to this review of the film Paprika , I would call it "Of Anime and Anima". That is: anime, a Western term that roughly refers to all Japanese animation; and anima, a Jungian term describing the idealized woman that all men supposedly carry within.
Paprika is an animated film from Japanese director Satoshi Kon. It’s also the name of the title character. She has impossibly wide eyes, a long torso, the perfect breasts for her frame – a Siren’s blend of Peter Pan and Lolita. She is a gamine dancing through the dreams of others, quicksilver as a minnow, chameleonic as Daphne, unfathomable and always just out of reach. Satoshi Kon has searched himself, found his anima, and set her free.
In perfect contrast to Paprika is Dr. Atsuko Chiba, a psychiatrist of porcelain skin and chilly disposition. Chiba has been working with two scientists – a dwarflike old man, the project chief, and a mountainous savant, her former boyfriend — to create a device called the D.C. Mini. The Mini allows those who use it to "hack in" to the dreams of others.
Secretly, Dr. Chiba has been freelancing with the device. Her dream avatar is Paprika, less an alter ego than a deep part of herself not fully under her control. The film begins as intrepid Paprika navigates the nightmares of a troubled police officer, Detective Kogawa. Inside his mind, from the garish imagery of a three-ringed circus to flickering scenes from movies of various genres, Paprika sticks with Kogawa, mutating into every ingénue who ever lived on celluloid. Of course the cop with the tense shoulders falls instantly for her insouciance.
Three of the D.C. minis have gone missing, and have fallen into the hands of a mysterious "dream terrorist". It’s a science fiction premise familiar from films such as Brainscan and Dreamscape , but that’s not really a weakness. Paprika is a film very much aware of, and very much about, other films, which are seen as self-contained dream-worlds. This includes Fellini’s 8 ½ , which is referenced specifically, and previous works by this director (I think I first glimpsed Paprika in Kon’s thriller Perfect Blue ). Anyhow, it’s best to leave the too-dense plot behind and dive directly into the cascade of images.
Adjusting to that imagery can be difficult for those used to American animated features, which favor technical slickness over expressiveness. Japanese animated films are jerkier, with fewer individual frames per second. There is a human quality to lines drawn by hand that is completely missing from the sterile computer animation that has conquered American films.
Let’s get down to brass tacks: Walt Disney knows nothing of sex. Dumbo the elephant was undoubtedly born of immaculate conception. Paprika , and most of Japanese animation in general, is for grown-ups. Though there is only one scene in the film that could be described as overtly sexual – and it’s a doozy — the film is highly erotic, with a certain sinuousness of line, as if all flesh were mutable. In fact, I think the entire film might be read as the struggle of a woman to come to terms with the body of her obese lover.
And struggle is what it’s all about: the struggle to integrate warring parts of the psyche into a single identity, the struggle to resist assimilation by a faceless mass. Where does that absorbing, tentacled mass come from, that appears at the climax of so many Japanese animated films? What cultural anxieties does it suggest? I won’t speculate, except to say that it brings with it a total loss of narrative control. But of Paprika , a creation of nearly pure cinema, the last thing we should desire is discipline. This film unscrews the top of your head and tinkers with the wiring inside. It’s the movie to beat this year.
Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera