“Paprika” begins with a disorienting, action-packed dream sequence in which a detective is pursued by nightmarish circus figures through a series of movie-like scenarios. As an audience member, you’d be wise to get used to the feeling of not knowing what’s going on.
One of the trippier animated films to come out of Japan in recent years, “Paprika” — by director Satoshi Kon (“Tokyo Godfathers”) — is an intensely weird, brightly colored, cheerfully animated piece of adult science-fiction that revels in its own whacked-out craziness. Much of it takes place in a dreamworld, so it makes sense that those parts wouldn’t, uh, make sense. But even the scenes set in reality have a strangeness to them, as when a fat man becomes so fat that he gets stuck in an elevator.
The story centers around a device called the DC Mini that can track and record people’s dreams. It’s being tested for use in psychotherapy when it’s stolen — meaning the thief can control anyone connected to it, forcing dreams into their conscious minds even when they’re awake, leading to dangerous and deadly behavior.
It’s up to the scientists in charge of the device to figure out who stole it and get it back. Among them is Dr. Atsuko Chiba (voice of Megumi Hayashibara), a pretty young woman who has an alter ego named Paprika who exists as a sort of guide in the dreamworld. She’s secretly been helping that detective, Konakawa (Akio Otsuka), peer into his dreams in the hopes of finding clues to a murder case he’s working. Konakawa has a strange distaste for movies that figures into the story later on, at least to the extent that anything truly “figures into” this story.
Things become more dire as the device claims more victims. Chiba and her fellow scientists, including the fat guy, Tokita (Toru Furuya), must find the DC Mini before everyone’s dreams become reality and turn the world into a nightmare. The veil between dreams and real life is already stretching thin, and the characters frequently find themselves unsure which is which.
Or something. Honestly, I’ve seen the film twice and am still baffled by a good portion of it, yet the gleefully bizarre dream sequences and general oddness make it a fun ride. A recurring theme has a parade of objects — mailboxes, refrigerators, frogs playing band instruments, little girls’ dolls, etc. — marching merrily through the city, and one imaginative scene after another makes you scratch your head and say, “What the hell…?” Some have suggested that taking drugs first would enhance the experience, but really, I don’t see how hallucinogens could make the movie any weirder than it is.
B (1 hr., 30 min.; Japanese with subtitles; )