Movie: Paprika (2006)

To describe the 2006 anime film Paprika is like trying to describe a dream, which is appropriate because this story concerns people dangerously blurring together the dreaming and waking worlds via a technology that records dreams. 

After I went to a thesaurus and failed to find any synonyms I especially liked for the word “dream”, I started thinking about all the other works which crossed my mind while watching this.  Things like the work of David Cronenberg, in particular eXistenZ.  80’s sci-fi pictures Brainstorm and Dreamscape.  The 2008 horror film Pontypool, in which an audibly-transmitted virus turns victims into gibberish-spouting maniacs.  Even the Spacemen 3 album Dreamweapon.

Another work I was reminded of frequently is the 1990 film Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, which led me to suspect Japanese works (or, at least, what I have been exposed to) seem to disproportionately focus on this nocturnal playground of the unconscious mind more than the works of other cultures.  I wonder why that is.

It was especially impossible for me to not recall a particular scene from 1988’s anime Akira every time we see a nightmarish parade of impossible objects marching.  The monstrously-sized and grotesquely distorted stuffed animals from that film would have felt at home in the menagerie of dolls, lampposts, beckoning cats and musical frogs that bulldoze through different people’s dreams until it invades reality itself.

An avatar across these dreamscapes is the titular character, a manic pixie literal dream girl.  She is the alter ego of a woman at the institute, who is a high-ranking associate of some sort though I wasn’t sure of her occupation.  The one helpful thing she does is counsel a police detective by working through a recurring dream of his.

That officer will have an interesting storyline that runs parallel to, and weaves into, the narrative of the scientists at the institute as they try to determine who is behind the dream terrorism and how to stop the intrusion in the waking world.  This doesn’t sound as terrifying as it is in the picture.  When a subject is sleeping, their body and mind are atrophying.  Things are worse when a subject is awake, as they tend to do things like leap to their deaths when they think they’re only clearing a barricade.

Many, many movies get labelled as being dream-like, but they often lazily follow well-established motifs to get there.  What impressed me is these sequences in Paprika do seem to come unfiltered from somebody’s unconscious mind, this is a surprisingly difficult thing to do.

I’d say more than half of that experience is the music and various background sounds.  The parade in particular has a theme that is simple yet lies atop a bubbling bed of sounds that I felt poked around in my mind, worming their way into my brain where I fear they will flourish and bear strange fruit.

Paprika is from the director of Perfect Blue and, while both were incredibly distinctive films which I recommend, I have to admit I prefer the latter.  I found it more interesting what the director could do with an abstract presentation of a conventional storyline than what was done here with a more conventional film of abstract ideas.  Even so, I recommend this movie to adventurous viewers.

Dir: Satoshi Kon

Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori

Watched on blu-ray