Megumi Hayashibara Is Paprika

So thanks to friends, news services, and the New York Film Festival, I got to see Paprika. Needless to say, this Satoshi Kon fan is pretty happy, being able to watch the film before it actually comes out. Plus it’s something interesting to blog and it doesn’t involve Kanon…

Paprika is a spice, as you know. A spicy name for a woman, perhaps. If you can imagine that Megumi Hayashibara was only so spicy to be paprika and not, say, jalapeño, then you’ve got the right image for Paprika, the character concept in the film. It’s not to say Hayashibara can’t crank it up, but that’s not her role in the film–a woman of every man’s dream. The woman of many faces is a underlying drive behind Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, and Hayashibara does a wonderful job with it.

In fact, you can see the underlying drive of all Satoshi Kon’s previous works in Paprika. The one that’s utmost obvious is Paranoia Agent. It’s a bit of a spoiler, so you can skip this paragraph if you’d like, but the underlying story of Paprika is fully explained (or unexplained) in the same fashion that Paranoia Agent is explained (or unexplained). The framework is really the same, although Paprika does offer us a lot more. I think if you can grasp what happened in Paranoia Agent then you’ve at least got the mental wherewithal to grasp the story in Paprika.

But even if you were spoiled, no word is enough to treat you to what Madhouse has lined up for your eyes and ears. To get it out of the way, despite that he’s perpetually stuck in the 80s, Suzumu Hirasawa’s soundtrack in Paprika is by far the least grating and least obnoxious. It’s not overly powerful compared to some of his earlier works in Kon’s shows, and I also think it’s just better arranged here. I rather like it.

The visuals, well, is what you’d expect of a movie featuring psychedelic dream sequences merging with reality and a feature film budget. It’s weird at times, it’s scary at times, it’s awe-inspiring at times, and at times it makes you wonder why Paprika is naked and huge.

Then you remember, hey, Megumi Hayashibara, yo!

(Is she playing a tsundere? Satoshi Kon has the otaku by his balls! Watch out!)

As with all of Kon’s works, they are visually imaginative. And as with the typical tools and conventions of anime storytelling, clever exaggeration works wonder to bring laughter. I should say Paprika is not exactly a LOL film, but it’s got some comedic highlights. Kon’s gotta work in some of that linear-branched narrative best seen in Tokyo Godfathers, after all.

Perhaps the most charming aspect of the film itself is the homages. From Roman Holiday (Aka is a Paprika knockoff?) to Kon’s own films, Paprika is a dialogue between Satoshi Kon and his viewers. Since Paprika is a novel adaptation, I’m not sure how much of that voice carries across from him and how much of it carries across from the original author, Yasutaka Tsutsui. But either way the film is passionate about film-making itself.

That said, even for me not all things about Paprika is glowing. I think if you’re unfamiliar with Kon’s works, you’ll likely to be pretty lost upon first impression. I think if you don’t have a keen grasp of the otaku underpinning, you are not going to get all the jokes. Heck, if you’re not a minor film buff (or someone who’s been watching movie and of a certain age), you’ll not get all the references. In as much as the barrier, I think, is high, Paprika is not too hard to understand substantively. It just won’t make it so surreally pleasing as it can for the hardcore Kon fans.

One other bone I can pick with Paprika is its pacing. Admittedly most of Satoshi Kon’s devices are tense. If you’re a follower of progressive, postmodern rock, or an anthem electronica fan (and others), you might be familiar with the whole buildup-release pattern. Paprika has some of that, but it doesn’t really break so cleanly. Part of it has to do with the jokes, but part of it has to do with the audience being unable to catch up to the film. As an result, while its 90-minute was well-used, I think it did not have the right timing in some of the key scenes.

If I had to use one meaningless cliché movie reviewers use to describe Paprika then I’ll call Paprika a “tour de LOL.” This is a must watch for Satoshi Kon fans and admirers of his work. Sadly, I cannot guarantee your safety if that’s not the case–watch at your own peril. If you live near the Windy City you can catch it next week at the Chicago International Film Festival (Who also is hosting Tomino right as I enter these texts). Other than that, it’s due an early 2007 release in Japan and over in the US.

For my solace, at least Paprika is the kind of film that leaves a longing aftertaste upon a powerful first impression. Like a spicy dish. Or a bad pun.

4 Responses to “Megumi Hayashibara Is Paprika”

  • Seth

    NEW KON FILM. Oh man. I wonder if I can get to Chicago next week… It’s only a six hour drive; that might be possible.

  • dm

    I’m rather fond of Susumu Hirasawa’s grating and obnoxious OSTs for Kon, so maybe I’ll like this one, too.

    The trailers certainly make this look like vintage Kon, and also make it look very interesting. Kon’s got a bit of a standing among critics (to the extent that he’s noticed at all). So…

    I expect it will get a 30-60 theater release in the US in March.

  • omo

    I think Kon is perfect for the arthouse crowd. It’s got that edge which bumps it out of the mainstream market but it uses devices and languages that are just delightful for people willing to critically think about film. Plus it packages “anime” in some of its most advance forms for consumers today.

    Alas, unless he shakes out of that he’s probably not going to go farther. We need another Perfect Blue kind of thing out of him.

  • dm

    Dunno. Perfect Blue was pretty art-house, if you ask me (though I suppose I’d think the same thing about Kill Bill, so what do I know?). If anything, I think Tokyo Godfathers (about as perfect a Christmas movie as one could ask for, perhaps Tokyo Magi would be too heavy-handed, if a more appropriate title) would be better suited as a “break out” film.

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