Paprika

A spunky red-head flies through the sky on a cloud and transforms into the Monkey King; a two-headed man has one head explode into a swarm of blue insects; a procession of dolls marches through a city, swallowing the souls of all it passes.

These are just some of the images that pass through “Paprika,” a Japanese animated film directed by Satoshi Kon. Being that most of the film takes place in dreamland, the images aren’t too out of place.

A brilliant but immature scientist, Tokita Kohsaku (voiced by Toru Furuya) has invented a device that lets users dive into people’s dreams and record them for analysis. His partner, Chiba Atsuko (Megumi Hayashibara) is a psychologist who uses the device to help patients (including a police officer with a recurring genre-hopping film dream) interpret and solve the mysteries in their minds.

Unfortunately, while still in the testing phase, someone steals it and begins to manipulate the dream world. Scientists and patients who have used the device are thrust into someone else’s dream; like zombies, they keep dancing in a parade procession that leads nowhere, unable to find their way home.

But fear not; Paprika, Chiba’s dream world alter ego, begins investigating and stumbles into an elusive solution, and a bigger problem with an even more elusive solution. To give too much of the plot away would spoil the fun, so let’s just say that “Paprika” has plenty of tricks and surprises to keep you guessing.

“Paprika” is a film I was destined to see. OK, maybe pulling destiny into the equation is a little much, but the movie taps into one of my triggers (a plot point of immediate appeal): Freaky dream sequences. And being an animated film, the format allows the director to demonstrate the endless possibilities of dreams in vivid (and in a few places, disturbing) detail.

And from the trigger standpoint, “Paprika” doesn’t disappoint. The dream world is jarring and filled with random craziness that in the long run makes perfect sense. I’m always on the lookout for movies that can capture the cinematic qualities (hyper-linear, plot driven mini-epics) of my dreams, and “Paprika” has come the closest. The character’s dreams are both nonsensical and emotional, and “Paprika” shows the audience how devastating, and wonderful, the small moments (in real life and the dream world) can be.

 “Paprika” is a fascinating treatise on dreaming and the dream world that almost falls apart after an impossible third act plot twist, but brings it back to ‘reality’ long enough for a surprise ending that is natural and satisfying. It’s one freaky dream, but a nice one to remember.

And not to be too much of shill, yours truly will be featured on a podcast for Group 4 in the Christmas Movie showdown at sbsun.com/holidays. Check it out, and don’t forget to vote for your favorites. (Shill out.)