Paprika ★★★½

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Letterboxd Season Challenge 2018-19
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Week 17: January 13th-19th
No Disney, No Ghibli Week

Although the DVD I borrowed offered a version dubbed in English, I decided to stick with the original Japanese language for this inaugural watch of writer-director Satoshi Kon's final animated film. It was based upon the science fiction novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, which first appeared in Marie Claire magazine in four parts between January 1991 and June 1993 issues.

The story opens with a dream sequence, starting at a circus but quickly becoming an attack, a chase, and a jungle sequence, with the dreamer, the detective known as Captain Toshimi Konakawa (Akio Ōtsuka), the main character in each part, but accompanied by a red-headed woman who helps him past each danger he faces. Upon waking, we learn that the woman is Doctor Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara), a psychotherapist and lead researcher at the Institute of Psychiatric Research.

Chiba uses a device called the DC Mini, invented by her genius colleague Dr. Kōsaku Tokita (Tōru Furuya), to view and participate in the dreams of her clients. When she is in the dream world, she assumes an alter ego called "Paprika." Tokita contacts Chiba to tell her three prototypes of the Dc Mini have been stolen and it seems like an inside job. She dutifully reports the theft to her boss, chief administrator Dr. Toratarō Shima (Katsunosuke Hori), and he takes it to the wheelchair-bound chairman of the institute, Dr. Seijirō Inui (Tōru Emori).

No sooner has the theft been reported than the thief uses the device to implant a surreal waking dream in the mind of Shima. Hooking the chief up to dream monitors, Chiba and Tokita are able to see a familiar face, Kei Himuro (Daisuke Sakaguchi), the inventor's friend and assistant. Missing for two days, he immediately becomes a suspect in the theft.

With help from Chiba's colleague Dr. Morio Osanai (Kōichi Yamadera), Tokita breaks into Himuro's cluttered apartment. There, she discovers an escape passage to an abandoned amusement park and follows a child who looks like Himuro, but it's all a dream... a form of anaphylaxis, according to Tokita, from using the DC Mini -- a side effect, if you will.

The chief recovers with Paprika's help. He contacts Konakawa, who uses the Internet to access a virtual reality site called radioclub.jp. Paprika is there. She explains that it's a "counseling room." The Internet and dreams have a lot in common, but not a lot of answers. Soon, other researchers at the institute are "infected" by implanted dreams, and the chairman orders all use of the DC Mini and dream monitors suspended.

To this point, the film is a bit whack, but it really flies off the handle after Act One's set-up. Himuro is found with one of the DC mini units, but he's a hollow shell of himself. Trying to help his friend, Tokita creates another unit and uses it, only to find that dreams can merge, and he gets caught in the surreal dream of Dr. Shima.

To rescue Tokita, Paprika must enter Himuro's dream. That's where she encounters Osanai. Realizing that Osanai is the Chairman's lackey, Paprika visits the boss and asks for Tokita's mind to be returned. But the Chairman has no use for the genius, other than to use his technology to free his spirit from his own broken body, thus leading the way for others to a "dreamland" paradise of his creation.

Osanai, of course, has his own dream of making Chiba his own. In the dream state, he captures Paprika and strips her skin away to reveal the psychologist inside. But then the Chairman's head grows out of Osanai's shoulder, taking over his body and wanting nothing more that to kill Chiba, who has defied him and stands in his way of domination.

Fortunately, Konakawa interrupts and takes unconscious Chiba away. Osanai chases after him and tries to get her back, but it is Konakawa's dream now and he shoots Osanai, apparently killing him not only in the dream but also in real life. Chiba awakes and Shima is there, worrying over her. But is this "reality" now, or just another aspect of a world that has now become a dream for everyone?

Kon keeps us guessing. He also peppers us with visual references to dozens of rituals and myths, which have become so deeply embedded in Japanese culture that nobody knows where their influence ends. The film got Kon a Golden Lion nomination in Venice, and he won the Public's Choice Award in Montréal as well as the Critics' Award at Fantasporto. This is most definitely not Disney or Ghibli, so give it a watch if you like animation. It's very good.

Voted #7 (tie) in my Tell me what to watch challenge

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