Image Overload 

Incoherent anime dazzles with robust imagery.

Confession: My exposure to anime is limited to watching and digging Ghost in the Shell about a decade ago and a handful of Hayao Miyazaki movies in recent years. And now there's Paprika, a movie that both dazzled and bewildered me. The "dazzle" is easy enough to figure out: Directed by Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress, the former I've actually heard of), Paprika looks like a billion yen. "Bewilder" is harder to track: Even given my below-average anime experience, this film makes as much sense as "All your base are belong to us."

You'll want to know what Paprika is about. Here's the old college try: It's no spoiler to say it was all just a dream. The Foundation for Psychiatric Research has invented a machine, the DC Mini, which enables doctors to treat patients better by recording and interacting with their dreams. The device is stolen, and the unknown villain begins manipulating the dreams of the good guys to the extent that they don't know when they're dreaming and when what's happening is real. Then, it gets worse when everybody is affected, and the dream world and the awake world become indistinguishable.

One good guy is Detective Kogawa Toshimi (Akio Ôtsuka), who has dreams that wend their way through movies such as From Russia with Love and Roman Holiday, so I like him already. Another protagonist is Dr. Chiba Atsuko/Paprika (Megumi Hayashibara), by day a female scientist developing the DC Mini for government-sanctioned use, by night a superhero philosopher-queen who illegally swings through her patient's dreams on a mission of healing.

But this synopsis makes the movie sound cogent, and Paprika will never be accused of that. The plot keywords on do a better job than I can to describe the spirit of the film. Among them: "head split in half," "trapeze," "Statue of Liberty," "tentacle rape," "piloted giant robot," and "unsolved case." Another, "twist in the end," works too. I was surprised how much I like Paprika, looking back on it, when I can't say I understood it much at all. Me like pretty pictures, I suppose.

The primary ingredient missing in Paprika is verbal. The robust images — chief among them, an apocalyptic parade led by a frog band, samurai, big-eyed kitties, Chinese dragons, and an army of baby dolls — compelling though they are, lack deeper power without comprehensible context. The context provider — the script, essentially — is mush-mouthed. What it produces are sentences — like, "The nonlinear waves created by surges in the bioelectrical current can be applied to create new synapse connections by adjusting the BTU output" — which are genuinely meant to clear the air of any confusion. They don't. This may be one foreign-language film that might be better experienced without subtitles.

Even beyond the dialogue, the intricacies of the plot are left unarticulated. Plot incoherence keeps the stakes from being spelled out: I know there's danger, but I don't know why or what to be afraid of. I don't know what the rules of the film are. A 100-foot tall, red-kimono-clad baby doll that attacks enemies with a warbling screech is good stuff in my book. But the danger it poses doesn't transgress beyond the physical. In a movie hip-deep in the subconscious, a little emotional and intellectual substance is called for. It's the least the accompanying images deserve.


Opens Friday, August 10th

Studio on the Square

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • Wildlife

      Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a couple in crisis in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
    • Bohemian Rhapsody

      The Glossy Biopic Can’t Live Up To Freddy Mercury’s Legend
    • The Old Man And The Gun

      Robert Redford retires at the top of his game


We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Tiger Blue

Tigers 109, Yale 102 (2 OT)

Tiger Blue

Tigers 28, SMU 18

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Hungry Memphis

Zopita's on the Square to open Nov. 19

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?


More by Greg Akers

Readers also liked…

  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • The Lost City of Z

    A mesmerizing story of obsession in the Amazon jungle
    • May 1, 2017
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation