Many mornings, especially those on which the alarm buzzes at me, there's a moment where the oil and water of dreams and reality are just separating. Where I am running through jungles or watching airliners crash in the middle of downtown DC.
If you can embrace that feeling, Paprika can work for you. Paprika is Satoshi Kon's (Tokyo Godfather) animated film about dreams. The cheap way out here is to say that the movie is all dream-logic. That is it is plotless and beautiful, visually inventive and darkly, inexplicably charming. A lament about the state of animated American films versus the psychological depth of their Japanese counterparts would be in order.
But that would be cheap.
Paprika is a question mark in the shape of a woman with short, red hair. A guide through and protector of dreams, we start the movie watching her lead Captain Konokawa, a policeman, through a fluid jumble of memories and subconscious meanderings through a circus and Tarzan-inspired jungles to a hotel hallway in which a murder victim is suspended midair. Just before the hallway distends into whiteness, Paprika wakes him and . . .
. . . pulls a DC Mini device off of Konokawa in reality and shows him the taped copy of his dream. She drives home and the soundtrack bounces us to the beat of electro-pop as Paprika turns into . . .
. . . Dr. Chiba extracts the immense, child-like Dr. Tokita from a too-small elevator before he explains that the DC Mini devices have been stolen. The thief, who the chairman of their company refers to as a terrorist, can insinuate himself into the dreams of others. His neuroses can spread to the general populace and . . .
The strong-line animation is a must for Paprika. The refrigerator and microwave which lead the march of dolls down a Tokyo street and through abandoned fairgrounds cannot exist without the screen being filled to the edge with details of dreams; the little use of CGI feels intrusive and ugly for its mundanity. Except for the blue butterflies which burst through our vision. Those work.
Pan's Labyrinth is proof that the line between reality and unreality can be made permeable in live action. But for a real kick, for fluidity between worlds, animation is best.
Paprika's storyline is followable in a stream-of-consciousness way, as long as you're willing to take the steps with the movie. Suspension of disbelief is an absolute requirement, as is a willingness to accept incomplete knowledge of the players' powers.
It helps that their motivations are generally lucid, so even if we don't know how Paprika became a fairy, we have a sense of why. The side story of Konokawa's dreams seems a bit unnecessary but at the same time provides some moments of surprising humor and meta references about filmmaking.
It seems like Satoshi Kon is trying to tell us something about technology encroaching on our dreams, but the message is a bit out of focus. Unlike Miyazaki's nature-worship films, the central moral, if any, is never spelled out.
If anything, this movie is worth seeing just to absorb the visuals and the peppy music. At some point, the movie envelops you. It becomes an experience more than simple viewing. Sometimes a cigar is a penis. Sometimes the broad-shouldered dog is a Jersey mobster. Paprika lives in these "sometimes."