Paprika 3 stars
Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Furuya and Akio Otsuka. Directed by Satoshi Kon. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Rated R; 1:30.
The art-house anime “Paprika” is worthy of your attention for two reasons. First, its eerie blend of media theory and otherworldly visuals will draw in both anime and art-house addicts. Second, it is part of the Louisville Exclusives series and marks a return of the Baxter Avenue Theatres’ parent company, Apex Theatres, to more adventurous fare.
Louisville Exclusives will screen independent and foreign movies at the Village 8 Theatres for the reduced rate of $5. The first of the series was “Broken English,” the well-received debut by Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of director Nick and actress Gena Rowlands. Coming up after “Paprika” (starting Aug. 10) will be “Vitus,” a Swiss movie about a child prodigy struggling under the weight of expectations. More films are to come.
The visual flair of “Paprika” probably makes it the strongest of this early bunch. It takes place in the near future, where a device has been invented for viewing and entering dreams. Its purpose is for psychotherapy, and a character named “Paprika” uses it to guide people through their nightmares and help in their interpretation. However, the prototype goes missing, making its patients vulnerable to bizarre waking dreams that tend to lead them out windows or into oncoming traffic. Under the direction of the sober-minded Dr. Chiba, its creators try to find the thief before he kills more people or destroys more psyches.
As the film unfolds, the line between waking life and dreamland becomes blurred, giving director Satoshi Kon free reign to go nuts. In one dazzling sequence, a character is able to move through the city by populating advertisements and televisions, jumping from the real world to a billboard ad and back without breaking her monologue. In another, two bad guys fuse into one very evil conjoined twin. Half of the twin eventually bursts into a cloud of blue butterflies.
Kon, who was also behind “Perfect Blue” and “Millennium Actress,” makes sure that “Paprika” has all the hallmarks of highbrow anime like “Ghost in the Shell” or “Akira”: nudity without titillation, violence without gore, a unique visual aesthetic, and tons of weighty dialogue. One character asks, “Don’t you think dreams and the Internet are similar? They are both areas where the repressed conscious mind vents.”
“Paprika” gives you interesting material to mull over — Why do we dream, and what role does technology play in realizing our fantasies? — but frequently delivers it much too opaquely. Kon obviously has no fear of destroying a carefully constructed mood with vague pontification and rhetorical questions. The titans of art-house anime — Otomo, Oshii, Miyazaki — would never make that mistake. They are filmmakers first and theorists second.
Still, “Paprika” is an interesting and at times visually arresting movie. But as Americans are exposed to more movies like this — and they’re included in series like Louisville Exclusives — we’re able to honestly compare them to the competition and not just give them a free pass because they’re cartoons.
“Paprika” is a good but flawed anime that’s worth a trip to the theater if you want to see something different.