Further musings on Paprika
(duplicate of a post to a message board at TGWTG.com)
I recently rewatched all four of Satoshi Kon’s films (that have yet been released) to write a paper on them. And I must say, definitively, Paprika was the least of the films he made. With each film, things tended more and more toward, for lack of a better term, kids’ stuff. This was not to the detriment of his first three films, but by the time he did Paranoia Agent, things were weakening. Paprika was the weakest thing he ever did (unless his yet-unseen final film is even weaker.) First of all, almost every character was a stone bore. Paprika herself was fun, as was the detective, but Paprika’s alter-ego Dr. Atsuko was dullsville. The characters were dimensionless; there was no meat on them (if you get my meaning.) And this was the first film that just seemed like an excuse to play reality-bending games. The man loved to play reality-bending games, but in his previous works, he had good reasons: a woman becomes schizophrenic; a city is overtaken by paranoia; a famous actress is the center (even the MacGuffin) of a kaleidoscopic homage to decades of Japanese cinema, centuries of Japanese history, and all the actresses who made us fall in love. But in Paprika, we have a device that takes you into people’s dreams, which is already too obvious a plot device, and then Kon throws away all the rules by saying that we can bend reality even when the device isn’t being used. Then Kon throws in a ton of stuff that is just weird for the sake of being weird, with no connection to anything else: just self-indulgence. And to make things worse, he has all kinds of stuff going on in the dream world, but he forgets to tie it back in with what’s happening in the real world.
Perfect Blue was a masterpiece; an immaculately-constructed psychological thriller that changes each time you look at it and never gets stale. Millenium Actress is the kaleidoscopic homage I talked about. It’s an excellent film, though in my humbug opinion, Perfect Blue is a little bit better. Tokyo Godfathers is a superb and charming comedy, though not quite as strong as the previous two movies. Paranoia Agent, the TV series, is a psychological thriller where the twists strain credibility, and some episodes approach the limit of how much weirdness-for-weirdness’-sake you can get away with, although the whole package still works as a whole. Again, not quite as good as the previous works, but still good. Paprika is a real disappointment. The characters are flat and forgettable, the weirdness is self-indulgent, the connection between the real and imaginary worlds gets forgotten, the twists aren’t as rewarding as they should be, and Satoshi Kon just isn’t performing to the best of his abilities. Also, as compared to the previous films, the animation was the most faceless (color palette and range, shading, etc.) So what if it got a wider theatrical release in America? Appleseed got a wide release, too, and that was just pedestrian garbage.