Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006)
From the realist-humanist comedy of Tokyo Godfathers (2003), anime director Satoshi Kon returns to the subject of weird, of the thin penetratable line that divides reality and dreams, which he explored previously. This time, Kon invades the world's collective nightmare with images that are found in the ordinary, the exotic, and the downright disturbing. Refrigerators containing boomboxes, japanese dolls and musical bands composed of frogs, freaks and creepy monsters --- these are the denizens of Kon's nightmarish dreamworld. Of course, at the center of everything is sprite-ish heroine Paprika who hops from one dream to another to cure the psychologically bothered.
Such is made possible by an invention called the DC-Mini (eerily sounds like the mp3 players being produced by Macintosh, which fascinatingly has similar attributes to the film's dream-sharing implement). Some DC-Mini's, which are still in its initial stages, have been stolen by so-called terrorists. The effects of the theft are tremendous; men are being trapped in a dream-state while still awake. This is caused by the inter-mixing of the dreams in the DC-Mini's master program, which collects all the dreams, supposedly for psychiatric uses.
Middle in the film, an interesting point is made --- that the internet is similar in aspects with the effects of the fictional DC-Mini. The allegations are actually disturbingly true. Through the internet's expansive reaches, ideas (which are basically as limitless as human dreams) are exchanged and molded into one massive and global phenomenon.
It's such a delicious concept --- sci-fi that only the Japanese can tell so perfectly without being drowned by insubstantial logic. To dig into the plot to uncover the glaring lapses in logic and the noticeable leaps in narrative consistency is obviously a disservice to the gargantuan "cool" that Kon serves us. Kon is a director that mixes the absurdism of Lynch with the freak-fetishism of Fellini, spiced up by traditional hentai kinkiness and gonzo science fiction (the same way he took a plot in Tokyo Godfathers that is essentially John Ford, and mixed it with the optimism and sentimentality of Capra, by way of something akin to the comic weirdness of neurotic Allen). Everything should be taken as they are; dream logic reigns supreme; and every scene engrosses and fascinates.
Is Paprika merely that, a delectable confection for the color-starved eyes and the realism-confined mind? Not exactly. There's sound philosophy underneath the gorgeous pandemonium. Pop-culture icon Paprika, described as everybody's dreamgirl, is in reality, a black haired scientist who dons black hair and clinically white lab gowns as opposed to Paprika's striking orange hair and mini-outfits. It is that glaring duality of humanity that becomes the root of the film's conflict --- of the insufficiency of the real world as compared to the boundless possibilities of human dreams; multiply those individual dreams by a thousand and the result are powers of god-like magnitude.
It is such corrupting effects of the limitless possibilities of human dreams that is juxtaposed with the same dreams' curative powers. Dreaming, in Kon's work, is a tool that perverses and mutates humanity the same way as it allows humanity to identify itself. It is that downplay of dualities that resonates as the film's thematic core. Can such dual natures co-exist in the realist frame; can reality allow the penetration of dream logic; can the limitless nature of dream invade the grim, dim, and gloomy inconveniences of real life? By film's end, it seems like Kon is suggesting that it may --- a romantic revelation ends with what feels like a dreamy fairy tale ending; and the film's troubled cop reunites with his cinematic passion.
It is for that reason why I prefer Kon to most of his anime peers (like Katsuhiro Otomo or Mamoru Oshii). Kon is more interested in the human aspect of science fiction (or everyday tales) rather than the obviously visceral or the subconsciously mind-boggling. His films are always rewarding despite the possibility that they might not always make perfect sense. Paprika offers that same kind of comfort --- that underneath the gratuitous excesses of Kon's wild imagination is a distinctly human heart, not mechanical or cartoonic.