Review: 'Paprika' has spice

There are many mysteries in Satoshi Kon's animated science fiction fantasy, beginning with Hungarian cooking's major spice as the name of the Japanese heroine. There is no explanation for that or for 18-year-old Paprika's other form as 29-year-old research scientist Dr. Chiba. When trouble strikes (early and often), the sedate scientist sheds years and clothes to become “a kick-ass dream warrior,” dwelling in people's dreams as part of an experiment going wrong…

Actually, we know the how of her dream incursions – a major component of “Paprika” – namely a futuristic device called the DC-Mini, but not quite the why of it. Psychotherapy by managed dreams? Maybe the premise has not been thought through. At any rate, the machine is exploited by an evil man, and only Paprika, in various stages of undress, can prevent a global nightmare.

If the story is complex, consider the guts of “Paprika,” described by a learned writer as “Freudian-Jungian-Felliniesque.” And yet, do not be discouraged: the mostly hand drawn “Paprika” looks gorgeous, its complex story is captivating, and you can experience and enjoy it on any number of levels – not necessarily as something terribly meaningful, unless that's your preference.

Kon, also responsible for “Millennium Actress” and “Tokyo Godfathers,” based “Paprika” on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, one of Japan's most famous and controversial science fiction writers.

Contrary to the convention of handsome, virile sci-fi heroes, the inventor of the psychotherapy device in “Paprika” is Dr. Tokita, a nerdy, comic, overweight genius. Also prominent in the story: a police detective, himself undergoing psychiatric treatment, but together enough to deal with the theft and exploitation of DC-Mini. They all dream, have nightmares, and scary chases by massive hordes of Daruma dolls.

Eventually, gigantic monsters start swallowing up everything in sight, a monstrous black hole sucking up the world… And the end? For that, you have to see “Paprika.”

Kon is a spectacular filmmaker, although not quite of the same warm, humanistic nature as Hayao Miyazaki, of “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away,” the two finest examples of anime, films that stay with you longer than “Paprika.”

For more anime viewing, consider a bright and sweet Korean film, “My Beautiful Girl Mari” and – surprise! – an American animated work, “The Iron Giant,” based on British poet-laureate Ted Hughes' reknown children's book.

Credits

Paprika

* * *

Starring: Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Furuya, Akio Ohtsuka

Written by: Seishi Minakami and Satoshi Kon

Directed by: Satoshi Kon

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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