Category Archives: Paprika

Looking at Anime in More Ways than One

I’ve been swamped with work lately, and the Burning Crusade makes it even more difficult to put in some quality think time about this whole deal, let along writing it. I have some ideas floating around that I failed to write down, but just as well ideas that I did. Like that excuse that I just wrote down about work and gaming.

Sort of to bounce off on the Futakoi Alternative bad rap: just as we all hate to be bored while watching anime as a way to entertain ourselves, we hate it when the anime “goes out of bound”. In saying so I’m trying construct a framework to explain how I see anime–that I put on different hats watching different shows.

I’ll go through some example to explain.

Tweeny Witches. This is a curious little show that is full of visual flare and in a way it oozes a lot of “coolness.” But like Studio 4C’s shorts you have to take them straight on. In some sense you can live without the subtext and background information that the equally visceral Satoshi Kon works live within, but unlike those things Tweeny Witches is asking its viewer to be ready for it, rather than trying to ease you into it more casually. As 9-minute TV episodes, it might be kind of hard to do that.

OTOH, a thing like Paprika, because it is a feature film, means its viewers enter it with the mindset of “it’s a film.” They are not only prepared, the format itself demands a tight, timely package of the full narrative experience. You don’t need a hook as much as a serialized publication would. You’re truly looking for an experience.

It’s an entirely different thing than Zero no Tsukaima. I don’t even know if just calling both “anime” reveals all there is that the two share–the basic, medium-sensitive natures of the shows. Perhaps in a greater, “modern visual cultural” context they are together like Jessica Simpson and Colin Powell are both widely-recognized names in American culture. A rigorous dissection quickly reduces Zero as a parade of troupes hung on the skeleton of a simple yet charming juvenile high-fantasy. And because this is so, it is easy to enjoy and require little effort otherwise.

A little more can be said of something closely related, Suzumiya Haruhi no Uuutsu. What it has over Zero is rather unclear once deconstructed. Perhaps the best way to distinguish the two is in the hype and in the production quality: not only in the animation but in the direction, acting, and thoughtfulness to details. It goes farther to bring you more than just the same, tried tale using the same tried devices, even if it does that for a good bit. Perhaps the “Kyon order” of the story is its greatest blessing.

And there is more. Mushishi was a big thing for me. It’s a well-crafted show (although still using some common troupes, despite unusual for an anime) because it manages to package something very good around a form that I normally dislike in a way that I do like. The catch here is that while you can enjoy Mushishi as casual enjoyment, you have to be in the mood, so to speak. To me what makes Mushishi special, aside from the production value and submergence, is what it actually is–a consistent unfolding of themes upon human imperfection resulting from a lack of understanding, but ultimately bound by the ties that makes men and women who they are. Still, what is troublesome is the unwrapping–for the longest time I cannot just sit down and watch this show, even amply prepared.

I wondered why. I think aside from my own personal nitpickery and strangeness, I felt I just had to be in a certain state of mind, with a certain amount of empathy mixed with apathy. A show like Black Lagoon did well for me because it works both when I am emo-blue as well as when I’m cackling with glee. The show itself is a mix of many different things, and while the inconsistency can be a bit off-putting for someone looking for just one thing, it manages to deliver plenty of, well, a lot.

On the flip side is Futakoi Alternative. To make no mistake, it has great production values. However it’s also a little dry, it suffers from having too little spanned across too much time. The direction is also more fitting of a film format even if it took advantage of the serialized, TV format in some of the episodes, to deliver that slice-of-life feel. A lot of the show worked, but a lot of it didn’t either. It gave us a variety of things, but I don’t know if those things worked well together.

Just like some shows are seasonal, some are equally best-tasted when you’re in the right state of mind. For some, it may means until they’re old and tired; some when fresh and not jaded. Others still just needs to have a fresh day to look forward to, or with the right company.

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.

The Theme of Memories is the Theme of Me

I’m not sure how many people out there recall the first few fansub renditions of episode 18 of Nadesico, but I thought that was always a touching way to translate something to get across the spirit of the language behind the title.

I’m not sure how many people out there enjoyed Kanon, either through the game, the fan stuff (radio shows and what not), or the Toei anime. I thought the new Kanon TV show is a self-fulfilling experience to re-experience your first time through Kanon, if you’re one of those people.

I’m not sure how many people out there even watched Simoun. I thought that was the saddest part about the whole thing. Who is going to stand vigil and remember the Chor Tempest?

The theme of memory is one that has real value the older you get. It doesn’t have to be mixed with regret, but it can. It certainly can be filled with “what ifs” and “now I get why.” Kanon is the story about a boy who grew up and couldn’t remember. It’s not a tropical, swashbuckling Peter Pan, but a downtempo, warm embrace. Because of that, re-watching Kanon is an enthralling experience. It’s not quite just going through the motions, but also going through your emotions when you remember your first trip with Yuuichi. It encourages you to remember. Could I remember Nayuki’s name if she asked?

What’s even more beautiful about this upcoming circumstance is that no longer we find our dusty, old remembrances dated with age. With even a critical eye we can re-examine Kanon through its new body. Thanks Kyoani! It’s really having the best of both worlds.

Memory is a favorite theme for many great pieces of anime. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you just how that plays with Paprika tomorrow. I suppose that’s why I’m somewhat soft versus Charlie Kaufman’s films? Not to mention Satoshi Kon, but even Mamoru Oshii’s rendition in Jin-Roh and the two Ghost in the Shell films touch on this.