パプリカ/Paprika

It’s a bit out of sequence, but I saw it tonight and have been trying to see it for a while, so I’m putting the thoughts out there before this film turns into odd debris in my head (or vice versa!). We can start with the simple fact that it’s a Satoshi kon film. Kon’s work has been becoming steadily weirder and more visually lush since Millennium Actress, and Paprika is a fairly straightforward point along that trend. We’re dropped in at the deep end; usually the genre-splicing only begins at the halfway point, but here we it starts in the first five minutes. The comparison to his former work becomes obvious in a lot of particular visuals: in particular, certain effects are reminiscent of the final two episodes of Paranoia Agent. Don’t worry, it makes more sense than those did.

There is a clear delineation between the successful and unsuccessful aspects of Paprika. The visuals are extraordinary, a busy fantasy of imagination with a lot going on. I think I can say without reservation that it’s among the most gorgeous animation work I’ve seen, in competition with the best of Ghibli. In praising stylistic elements, a good deal of credit also has to go to Susumu Hirasawa, who on his third collaboration with Kon has transcended to a fair degree his electropop roots. There’s still a lot of music which sounds like an evolved state of P-Model, but it’s blended with a wider variety of cinematic themes. It goes without saying, of course, that the music’s frenetic and otherworldly style matches the visual design.

So much for the good. The bad is, alas, much of the rest of the film’s characteristics. The visual extraordinariness is actually a liability from a pacing perspective: we’re treated to massive infodumps by the psych crew, which are notable mostly for the lack of anything exciting happening on the screen at the same time. I’ve tolerated dialogue as technobabble-laden and abstract or even more so in the past (Ghost in the Shell springs to mind), but Paprika achieves an unequalled momentum of action, and it’s that much more bitter when it grinds to a halt.

The ending is vaguely unsatisfying, although things are at least more-or-less resolved. Kon is in danger of acquiring Stephenson’s syndrome at this rate: Perfect Blue‘s ending was a cop-out, Paranoia Agent‘s final episode was largely incomprehensible, and here we have another weak ending. Not terrible, but weak enough to cause alarm.

Time to swing back to the good. Character design has evolved in some places; stayed a bit stagnant in others. Konakawa’s a bit of a rehash: the physical design echoes Millennium Actress‘s Genya and the characterization has fragments of Genya blended with Paranoia Agent‘s Maniwa and Ikari. The other characters however, are largely a fresh design, and I particularly like the newfound autonomy female characters get. Kon’s female characters have in the past been basically a thin layer of skin over a jumble of neuroses: even the comparatively strong title character of Millennium Actress is more a scared girl acting out a dream than a strong independent woman. Paprika‘s women are a breath of fresh air in this regard. Atsuko is intelligent, active, and dominating, and the title character is simply charmingly vivacious.

All in all, Paprika is an extraordinary stylistic spectacle, and indicative of significant creative growth for Satoshi Kon (and Susumu Hirasawa), and is well worth the watching despite its serious flaws in plot and pacing.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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