J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Japan Society Monthly Classics: Paprika

If you are being tormented by your subconscious, she is far more willing to help and much more pleasant to be around than Shinya Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective. Ironically, she is the avatar of the brusque but still attractive Dr. Atsuko Chiba. Unfortunately, the technology that allows her to visit other people’s dreams falls into the wrong hands in Satoshi Kon’s animated new classic, Paprika (trailer here), which screens this Friday as part of the Japan Society’s Monthly Classic film series.

As Paprika, Chiba has been counseling hardboiled police detective Toshimi Konakawa, who is plagued by visions of an ill-fated shooting and a mystery man from his past. Konakawa only knows her as Paprika, but that is enough for him to be smitten. Technically, she is Chiba’s alter-ego, but she seems to exhibit some level of her own free agency. Nonetheless, Konakawa still immediately recognizes Chiba in the real world when he meets her during the course of a case.

Rather inconveniently, the DC Mini, the device that allows Chiba and her colleagues to monitor and interact with patients’ dreams has been stolen. The assistant of the device’s inventor has also gone missing and the project director has suffered a psycho episode as a result of a dream-based attack launched by the thief. Initially, all patients and doctors hooked up to a DC Mini are vulnerable to this dream terrorism, but eventually everyone’s sub-conscience (or perhaps the collective unconscious) will be at risk.

Based on a novel by Ysautaka Tsusui, Paprika neatly balances the science fiction of films like Inception and Dreamscape with the psychological intrigue of thrillers like Hitchcock’s Spellbound. It will probably frustrate the pedantic because the nature of Paprika and the powers of the DC Mini are rather slippery and constantly evolving. However, it is a consistently provocative film, especially when drawing parallels between the dream world and cyberspace.

Paprika is chocked full of wild visuals, including a dreamland parade of subconscious hang-ups that looks like it could have influenced Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars. It also boasts some unusually well-delineated characters for an animated film, especially Konakawa and Chiba (and maybe Paprika too). Frankly, it holds up pretty brilliantly nearly ten years after its initial American release, even though Inception subsequently poached on its subconscious terrain. Every science fiction and animation fan should catch up with it and they will have a chance to do so on the big screen when the Japan Society projects it this Friday (10/7), as this month’s classic.

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