AnimationÂ works a little different in Japan, where some of the most talented directorsÂ have made it their passion and left the country more open to its possibilities asÂ a result. Why, then, did the acclaimed director Satoshi Kon choose to revealÂ his last movie in film festivals scattered all over the world, culminating in aÂ limited theatrical release in the United States, instead of making anyÂ particular effort to sell it in Japan? Your guess is probably as good as theÂ broad speculation I could insert here.
ItÂ won in four different festivals around the world, also placing second at theÂ Central Ohio Film Critics Association after Pixarâ€™s RatatouilleÂ (2007),Â but its limited release in the United States nabbed it just short of oneÂ million dollars. Hopefully, it wasnâ€™t as expensive as it looks.
The movie: A tiny car drives into the centerÂ of a circus. The door opens and a clown bigger than the car itself priesÂ herself out and proclaims â€œAnd now, boys and girls, itâ€™s show time!â€
EverythingÂ in the circus â€“ elephants, stilt-walkers, fire-breathers, and acrobats â€“ beginsÂ parading. Detective Konakawa slips through the cheering crowd and meets theÂ clown girl on the stairs, whispering â€œNo question, heâ€™s definitely here.â€ SheÂ points out that someone onstage is watching him, but before he can react, theÂ spotlight hits him and the man bellows
â€œLadiesÂ and gentlemen! Please turn your attention to that man! Viola, one, two, three!â€Â The curtain beside him drops, revealing Konakawa trapped in a small cage as theÂ audience cheers. Exasperated, he looks to where he was a moment ago and seesÂ himself shout â€œThere he is! Get him!â€
TheÂ audience, all with Konakawaâ€™s face, darts from the stands and surrounds theÂ cage, bending the bars as they reach for Konakawa. He struggles to braceÂ himself as the floor gives out and he falls through the ceiling of the big top.Â But before he can hit the ground, the clown from before, now dressed as aÂ beautiful trapeze artist, swings by and valiantly catches him, and they swingÂ to safety through a jungle, dressed as Tarzan and Jane.
â€œHe gotÂ away again!â€ growls Konakawa.
â€œYouâ€™re the man who got away,â€ the girl reminds him.
A branchÂ from out of nowhere hits them, breaking their grip, and the assassin on theÂ train begins strangling Konakawa with a wire. The girl sits up behind them andÂ realizes whatâ€™s happening. Acting fast to save him, she grabs a briefcase,Â raises it above her head, and whacks the man in a zoot suit with her guitar.
â€œGreat,Â gimme another one!â€ calls Konakawa, adjusting his camera.
But then,Â Konakawa spots a shadowy man slipping through the crowd around the scene. HeÂ gives chase, pursuing the man into a building, but as he rounds a corner, aÂ shot rings out and an innocent bystander in the middle of the hallway dropsÂ dead, while the shadowy man makes his way out the exit at the other end.Â Konakawa tries to chase him, but the hallway elongates, twists and fades toÂ white, leaving him hurtling through space.
â€œBut whatÂ about the rest of it?â€
He wakesÂ up next to the girl from his dream, who removes the devices behind their earsÂ and tells him â€œeveryone is startled the first time they try it.â€
KonakawaÂ is one of the first volunteers for â€œdream therapy,â€ using a device that, onceÂ perfected, will allow people to enter their dreams â€œeven while theyâ€™re wideÂ awake.â€ His current homicide case, featuring the same man shot in his dream,Â has caused him disorienting stress. But the first session has him alreadyÂ falling for the warm, exuberant and fun-loving therapist, who leaves him untilÂ his next appointment with a calling card that reads â€œPaprika.â€
ButÂ Konakawa has no idea where this case will lead him very soon, when an unknownÂ party steals three prototypes of the device, allowing them to enter the dreamsÂ anyone of they choose and control their psyche. When the chief of theÂ department developing the project goes berserk and jumps out a window, theÂ mystery begins, and the answer can only be found in the dream world. Luckily,Â the people on the case have a secret weapon: Paprika, who we soon learn is aÂ dream fabrication herself, created to go beyond the capabilities of her veryÂ different real-world counterpart.
Paprika follows its own sort of logic that always stays consistent. Itâ€™sÂ intriguing and never incomprehensible. But itâ€™s still a mind trip, taking us inÂ and out of dreams that it creates with as much imagination as you will ever seeÂ in one movie. Following it is visceral and thought-provoking at the same time.Â The dubbed lines in the English version are not the best â€“ though the voicesÂ match well â€“ and some scenes require some knowledge of Freud to appreciate, butÂ to dwell on either is much like fretting over the shape of the bowl holdingÂ your ice-cream sundae. No movie can quite make up for missing this one.
The actors:Voice acting often goesÂ unappreciated, despite the efforts Robin William, Eddie Murphy, and others toÂ prove that it can be a true display of their talent. However, most of the voiceÂ actors in Paprika are not big name performers. Still, sometimes a bigÂ name only brings just that; Paul St. Peter gives Detective Konakawa exactly theÂ kind of voice youâ€™d expect a gruff â€œgood copâ€ to have, and Cindy Robinson isÂ just lovable as Paprika. They were chosen with care, as is not always the case.
TheÂ director:Sadly,Â thereâ€™s less to report here than there should be. Satoshi Kon was on his way toÂ prominence as an animator in Japan, creating three beautifully mature moviesÂ about pop stars, aging actresses, and homeless cultural rejects forming aÂ makeshift family together. But Paprika, based on the 1993 novel of theÂ same name, was the one he waited nine years to direct, and itâ€™s obvious thatÂ when he finally got to do it, he was ready.
Really, the public canâ€™t take too much of the blame for the obscurity this time, asÂ most states were never even given the option to see it. After debating whetherÂ to send it straight to DVD, Sony Pictures Classics nonchalantly threw it intoÂ select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, where it took in a slow stream ofÂ money for almost four months. Other limited releases have done less with more.Â Christopher Nolan proved that the idea can form a major box office blockbusterÂ when he drew inspiration from Paprika to create his 2010 film Inception.
Though heÂ began work on another film called Dreaming Machine, Mr. Kon wasÂ diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in May 2010, retreating from the publicÂ eye to keep his failing body out of the spotlight. He died in August of 2010 atÂ the age of 46. Keep your eyes open for Dreaming Machine, which hisÂ company is now struggling to complete for him, despite a lack of funding.