Hallucinatory pscychoanalysis? At least the equal of Kon's previous Psycho-thriller Perfect Blue, Paprika is quickly becoming one of my favourite anime features. When attempting to describe the dark complexities of Perfect Blue, I found myself reaching for comparisons to De Palma and Hitchcock; in this case, except for the obvious connections to anime greats like Miyazaki, Kawajiri, Oshii and Otomo (I noticed references to 'Akira', 'Wicked City' and 'Princess Monoke') and perhaps modern speculative writers like Philip K Dick or William Gibson (I've drawn a long bow elsewhere recently and also tried to compare this to Pynchon), this film is peerless.
To me 'Perfect Blue' and 'Paprika' are companion pieces (although you might also consider them a trilogy of sorts, including 'Sennen joyÃ»'/ 'Millenium Actress' as the second instalment of Kon's 'psychodramas' focussing upon paradoxically strong yet vulnerable heroines). The former exploring the obsessive psyche of a fan cum stalker, the intimate interconnection of an unwilling pop icon and her psychotic fan - visually quoting his earlier film, Paprika skips in slow motion, defying normal gravity, just like Perfect Blue's fan/stalker Uchida - the latter the unconscious neuroses of the individual amongst the seemingly endless complexity and absurdity of a postmodern existence in which their mind starts unravelling... and they can watch it happen, and indeed interpret their own psychic disintegration like discussing a movie...
There is also an intriguing and (semi)coherent sci-fi narrative at work throughout, which this psychodrama exists within, though it may take more than one viewing before you can focus upon it. In short, the story explores the complications that occur when Psychiatrists start employing the "DC Mini" a device invented by a giant man-child 'visionary' Doctor Tokita (more than once we see him possessing a 'third eye'), which has the ability to display the visuals of a subject's dreams on a screen, as an aid to the 'talking cure.' But that is merely the jump-off point. There are perhaps some similarities between the way the DC Mini functions with the way that Joel Barrish finds himself fleeing the memory-erasing hardware of Lacuna Inc. in 'Eternal Sunshine', though the device itself, streamlined and vaguely organic in appearance, foreshadows the sinister aspects of the psychiatrists seeking a more intimate relationship with the patient - a little like the surgical instruments in Cronenberg's 'Dead Ringers'.
The visual psychosis first marches into view as an endless parade of semiotic delirium that reminded me at first of the cartoon accompanying
Roger Glover's Butterfly ball
(it might just be the creepy frogs, or my very own subjective semiological reference point, but it's a persistent thought I have watching the film, as well as being a pretty well-known piece of animation) but quickly the darker suppressed (or repressed, depending on your view of psychology) elements of the human psyche start rising up through the skin of the quaint 60's psychedelia, and is accompanied by never-ending legions of everyday objects (but especially childhood toys, the obsession of Himuro, Tokita's former assistant who we first discover has stolen the DC Mini), brought to life, oddly animate. To move about this shared and expanding 'dream world', Paprika embodies characters from fairytale and myth, from Tinkerbell to the Monkey-god, whatever shape might best navigate a delusional world of a collective psyche - the merged Unconscious of every neurotic that has plugged into the machine under the control of Osanai, the assistant of to the Chairman of the corporation enabling this team of 'psychic pioneers', who himself has an unhealthy fixation on Paprika / Atsuko, and has tried to hijacked this new terrain for his own ends, not realising that the Chairman too has plans for it.
If you're still following the story at this point it won't bother you too much that Osanai occasionally appears as a cloud of brilliant blue butterflies, or that much of what I've described actually takes place around a central story concerning a police detective plagued by a recurring dream which culminates in a fatal shooting that seems very familiar to him but he can't recall quite why. Also, just as you think the story is resolving, the dream world invades waking life...
But the film does obey a logic of it's own, and the conclusion is comprehensible, as well as being quite lovely. It's not an 'bad trip'; recurring motifs of Circus, Theme Parks and children's playthings serve to remind us this is entertainment. Even it's most murderous and psychotic sequences are gleefully visual and rendered in relentlessly gorgeous and artful compositions, and Susumu Hirasawa's feverish and perfectly ridiculous soundtrack seems insanely joyful, making it one of the most brilliant shows of it's kind that I've seen.