Satoshi Kon has always been fascinated with the inner lives of his characters and the conflict that arises when self-perceptions are exposed to the air of reality. His first feature, Perfect Blue (1997) was a perfect Hitchkockian nightmare that explored the breakdown of a pop idol who attempts to break out of her teen image by taking on more ‘adult’ oriented acting roles, only to find that transformation sat mentally uncomfortably with not only her values but those of a homicidally obsessed fan.
Millennium Actress (2001) was a time warp around an aging reclusive actress whose career comes to life, casting two documentary makers working on her retropsective as major players in a hidden love story spanning decades as well as being Kon’s love letter to Japanese cinema.
With his 2004 series Paranoia Agent, Satoshi Kon had the space to broaden his focus to go wading deep into Jung’s stream of collective unconscious. Random and seemingly abitrary attacks by a boy on rollerblades wielding a baseball bat, nicknamed Li’l Slugger, creates community hysteria. Each episode focussed on an attack, revealing individual fears and loathings using Li’l Slugger as a catalyst to resolve / escape / justify their personal predicaments.
Although the above reads as an attempt to justify my double pysch major, it actually provides the context for Paprika. Set in the near future, Paprika revolves around the DC Mini, a device that allows a therapist to enter patients’ dreams, record them to analyse and relieve their anxieties. When the device is stolen all unconscious hell breaks loose with dreams starting to merge with reality. Paprika is a fever dream of Satoshi Kon characters and themes: a detective unable to define himself, a therapist with a split personality with an unusual manifestation and the blurring of reality as characters step in and out of dreams.
It is initially a shock to find the forensically-detailed, crime scene investigator Kon tossing his thematic devices around with childlike abandon. However once grumpy preconceptions subside, Paprika draws you into Kon’s freewheeling stream of consciousness. Kon is more concerned here with creating an impressionistic canvas than plot-heavy drama. And what impression he creates. Paprika’s dream procession is a visual feast that entrances the eye and gives Innocence a run for its money. Kon’s characters seem looser in Paprika (even the uptight ones) which gives them a much more playful quality that perfectly matches the film’s tone.
If you are prepared to go with Satoshi Kon’s flow, Paprika is a fantastic journey. This is a feature that allows him to tackle his favourite themes with fresh vigour and abandon. It is well worth the ride.