Paprika

21 06 2007

Paprika
Sadly, this is not a review of the spice. If it were, I’d be in favor of it. Especially on deviled eggs.

Actually, though, I caught Paprika, the Japanese anime movie, on Wednesday night. It was pretty dreadful. I can’t recommend it.

The film starts out fairly promisingly, sketching out a plot about a device, the DC Mini, that allows a psychologist to enter a patient’s dreams for treatment purposes. The therapist leading research into the DC Mini is, prematurely, using the DC Mini to treat some patients. She conducts this therapy through her alter ego, Paprika. Unfortunately, one of the DC Mini prototypes goes missing, and—with disastrous consequences—it starts being used against members of the DC Mini’s development team.

From there, all sorts of stuff happens. Unfortunately, only a little bit of it makes any real, er, sense. I can tell you that the film attempts to merge dream worlds and reality, whatever that is, in complicated ways. There’s also a sort of anti-business theme. Without a copy of the script, or a detailed synopsis (the press kit‘s “long” synopsis extends for 17 full paragraphs), though, you’ll be hard-pressed to say at any point just exactly what’s going on. When the film was over, I had a general idea about what had taken place, and there were various satisfying “resolutions” to the plot lines, but I was unable to say how Point A led to Point B and so forth. I mostly felt like I’d just sat through a whirlwind of color and baffling symbolism.

The film is colorful, to be sure. The animation is far better than nearly anything produced in Hollywood, and I certainly appreciated the attempt to make a film that would appeal to adult fans of animation. In the end, though, I have two real demands for any film: (a) I should be able to understand what happens and (b) the story ought to make some resonant, meaningful commentary, however modest, about life. Paprika failed me, in substantial ways, on both grounds.

I also have a particular gripe about the plot. Early in the story, the attentive viewer (and, golly, I was trying!) sees evidence that what seems to be a “bad” guy is gay. Ok, fine. I certainly don’t expect every gay character to be admirable. Later, though, when we have a better idea who the bad guys are, we learn that the really bad guy has sold his, um, assets to more than one unsavory man. If there’s some nonprejudicial message in that, it was lost on me. In Paprika‘s world, gay seems to be code for the morally questionable. Ugh.

Having written all this, let me point out that many film critics have loved Paprika. I think some of that may be due to a subplot that romanticizes/idealizes film-going. But I freely admit that I might be wrong about Paprika. I just don’t think I am.

In my local newspaper, film critic Carrie Rickey wrote that Paprika “might have been imagined by a tag team of novelist Philip K. Dick, cyberpunk scribe William Gibson, and technoscientist Donna Haraway.” That line helped propel me to the theater. While Dick and Gibson might have imagined worlds like Paprika‘s, though, they’d’ve done more with it.

On a four-star scale, I’d give Paprika one-and-a-half or two stars.

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