While Satoshi Kon‘s "Paprika" couldn’t be called the film with the most emotional depth at the festival (or of Kon’s career), it’s probably the most deliriously pop fun. It peeks into the lives of a research division developing the DC Mini, an invention that lets you access and enter another person’s dreams, and a convenient excuse for fabulous sequences of phantasmagoric imagery. When three of the still-in-development devices are stolen, the scientists investigate the matter themselves, hoping to protect their project (which is controversial and not yet approved by the government). The lab is run by the elf-like Dr. Shima. The head psychotherapist is the pretty, reserved Dr. Atsuko Chiba (voiced by the prolific Megumi Hayashibara). The inventor of the DC Mini is Dr. Tokita, a cheerfully obese, childish genius. And the whole thing is overseen from afar by the disapproving Chairman, who’s bald and wheelchair-bound and hangs out in greenhouses, "The Big Sleep" be damned.
Kon loves the divide between people’s interior and exterior lives and the moments when the two bleed together (he’s a little overfond of the visual shorthand of someone looking at their reflection and seeing something other than him or herself). "Paprika" lets him play with these ideas literally â€” the dreamscapes are overflowing with chaotic memories and tamped-down impulses. Most telling is the way the characters envision themselves in dreams. One rather ominously is accompanied by a cloud of butterflies; another becomes a giant robot. And then there’s the title character, the intrepid, outgoing Paprika, a young girl who slips through the world of dreams effortlessly, and who turns out poignantly to be the alter-ego of Dr. Chiba. The schism between the real life Chiba and her dream self is such that everyone in the lab, including herself, thinks of Paprika as a separate person. Paprika is the expression of all that Chiba isn’t â€” straightforward, warm, and, as the opening montage of her flitting through the city accompanied by the soaring, abrupt techno theme that greets her appearances attests, free.
"Paprika" is adopted from a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, and tries to take on far too much plot. Unaccountable developments are explained away with a few lines of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo â€” best to just let them slide by. The animation is nicely done, and Kon favors a realistic style, should anyone have an aversion to sweat-drops and huge, shimmery eyes.
Screens October 7 at Alice Tully Hall; will receive some sort of release from Sony Pictures next year.