Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2006 1:49 pm 
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Chaos is come again--but we saw it in 1989

Most film buffs old enough to have survived the Eighties developed at least a passing interest in Japan animé during those years and there were moments when I was temporarily seduced by it. That was when it seemed new and daring and inexhaustible, and there were combinations of folk legend, gross sexual excess, and cuteness that certainly made you forget about Walt Disney. Though it’s not strictly speaking animé at all, for my money it’s Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1989: “A man is experiencing problems with metal showing up and protruding from his body…he must face the antagonist which lives inside him as he continues to sprout more and more metal”) that blows all the rest away for sheer nightmare strangeness and visual invention. Maybe the Film Society of Lincoln Cernter festival jurors were not the best people to choose animé for us; maybe they were seduced by the cinematically referential elements of Paprika. It may be above average for the genre but it is not destined to be one of the great ones.

The premise is that a gadget called DC-Mini that allows psychiatrists to enter their patients’ dreams has gone astray and mayhem ensues. In an energetic opening sequence, police detective Konakawa (Akio Ohtsuka) escapes a whirlwind of chase scenarios out of film noir, Tarzan movies, etc. glimpsed through an elevator door. With him is a young red-haired woman named Paprika (Megumi Hayashibara). This self-referential intro refers to filmmaking and film fandom repeatedly, another aspect that may have appealed to the festival pundits.

The main one is the way the plot circles around a dream machine. Isn't that Hollywood? The opening sequence turns out to be a dream, and Dr. Atsuko Chiba, who is also Paprika, announces that somebody has stolen the DC-Mini and is using it to turn the team of shrinks she's associated with into zombies spouting nonsense. This brings in colorful character No. 1, a monstrous overeater and the genius inventor of the dream device named Tokita (Toru Furuya). Can he figure out how to get DC-Mini back?

We go in and out of dreams and reality – sounds like Michel Gondry; but it turns out to be a lot more synthetic. The English word “terrorist” pops up, perhaps inevitably, because this story concerns saving the world from chaos and also protecting the natural universe from the invasion of the mechanical that is so horrifyingly and far more unforgettably portrayed in Tetsuya: The Iron Man.

The rest is mostly a chase, with a special feature being that Atsuko and her Paprika clone become heroines and so the film departs from the misogyny too often found in the genre—except for one lapse when a male character “undoes” a female one in a quite shocking way.

Paprika is not extraordinary visually. After all the taboos and physical impossibilities the genre has already long explored, that would be hard. In scenes where masses of toys come to life, they do take on a “new” look – a sort of glazed-over surface reminiscent of old children’s book illustrations. It’s quite an attractive effect, but not an especially innovative one. Mass backgrounds full of chaotic movement are occasionally strikingly handled; production values are above average. Otherwise, the cute women, the Tracy-jawed detective, and cuddly nerds that populate the plot are depicted in quite conventional fashion. Akira and Mayasaki still wear their laurels intact. Ultimately it’s for its premise rather than its style or its narrative invention that Paprika has been chosen as part of the New York Film Festival’s selective 2006 list.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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