Yesterday had the rare treat of getting to see the new movie by one of my favorite directors. And, what's more, I got to see it in the theatre (the Varsity, on University Avenue in the U-District). And it was shown with the original dialogue, subtitled not dubbed, and I found out later that my favorite voice actress, Megumi Hayashibara, played the main character. It thus joins the very short list of anime I've seen on the big screen: SPIRITED AWAY, COWBOY BEBOP, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, and STEAMBOY.
For those who enjoy Satoshi Kon's work and have not yet seen PAPRIKA, I cannot recommend it highly enough: it's classic Kon, clearly from the same mind that gave us PERFECT BLUE, MILLENNIUM ACTRESS, and especially PARANOIA AGENT; elements of TOKYO GODFATHERS are here as well, but muted. There's a reason Kon was recently named the best director working in anime after the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (who's in a league all by himself) by a major anime magazine (PROTOCULTURE ADDICTS #90, Jan/Feb 2007).*
First and foremost, this is surrealism done right. First it throws you in the deep end by showing the audience scenes from a policeman's recurring nightmare, then it explains clearly and simply what's going on (a scientist has invented a device that enables those who use it to enter other's dreams as an advanced form of psychotherapy; Paprika is a sort of guide who appears in the dreams and interacts with the dreamer), then it shows the rules it's just laid down start to come unhinged as the situation spirals out of control (someone has stolen several prototypes and uses them to force others into dream-states, with disastrous consequences as their victims sleepwalk out of high windows and the like; the devices also have unanticipated side-effects). As with PERFECT BLUE, things which happen only in the imagination are shown as if they were happening in the real world; as with PARANOIA AGENT, things from the dream world escape into reality, with dire consequences.
Second, this is the best superhero movie I've ever seen. The title character, Paprika, has a joie de vie that's an enormous contrast with the mopey comic book heroes of the last few decades (is there anyone out there who started reading comics after the 1960s who remembers when they used to be fun?). Although created as a persona within the dreamscape by the film's main character, Dr. Chiba (the super-competent scientist in charge of the project who's trying to clean up this mess and find out who within her team sabotaged the experiment), Paprika is quite unlike her real-world analogue: younger, more vivacious, mercurial. Within the dreamscapes, she can go almost anywhere and make herself over into almost anything within whatever environment she finds herself in, but she's not all-powerful, and frequently resorts to 'running away, terribly fast' when the situation calls for it.
Third, it's a suspenseful film that takes the time for character development: all the members of Dr. Chiba's team are vividly presented, from the mad scientist who invented the dream-device (a childlike whale of a man who's both a genius and utterly guileless) to Dr. Chiba herself, as is the detective who becomes ensnared in the case and of course Paprika herself. One reviewer compared it (favorably) to Gaiman, but it's far more fluid, less sinister, and considerably more entertaining than, say, MIRRORMASK. This is definitely one I'll be buying as soon as it becomes available over here; like PERFECT BLUE it'll reward repeated viewings. And, with a dvd, I'll be able to check something I almost missed at the end: a character going into a theatre passes by three posters. The third is an ad for TOKYO GODFATHERS, and I think the second was for MILLENNIUM ACTRESS, but I didn't catch the in-joke and look in time. I'm suspecting the first was for PERFECT BLUE, rounding out all three of Kon's previous films, but we'll see. I'll be wondering if the movie the character is going to see shows up as Kon's next project, but that's probably a little too neat.
Short version: classic Satoshi Kon, and a must-see for anyone interested in his work; highly recommended for fans of anime in general and also those interested in fantasy and science fiction.
*Being named the best after Miyazaki is roughly equivalent to being named the best fantasy writer after Tolkien. Hideaki Anno, of EVANGELION fame, came in next after Kon.