Based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s novel, director Satoshi Kon’s riotous anime is an overload of color, sound, and sheer, unbridled imagination. The film revolves around the development of a machine that allows users to enter the dreams of others, a device built for therapeutic purposes but which, once stolen by a malicious thief, leads to a breaking down of the walls between reality and nightmare.
It’s a beautiful film, featuring gorgeous backdrops that are vividly rendered. The waking world and the world of dreams are differentiated by the use of color and light, such that the office and labs are in dull blues and whites, while the dreams are painted in crimsons, emerald greens and achingly beautiful azures. The level of detail and attention paid to the images on the screen result in an absorbing visual feast, from the panoply of figures that dance and surge in the nightmare parade to the squalid and creepy bedroom of the initial suspect.
However, the plot is best not examined too closely. The emphasis is clearly on the feel of the movie, and not on the linear narrative that a viewer might seek to follow. Just whom is Paprika, and what is her relation to Dr. Atsuko? Why is Paprika helping the Detective with his nightmares in a distant hotel room at the start of the film, and not in the clinic? What exactly takes place at the end, and why? As soon as one begins to ask such questions, begins to look at the film with greater scrutiny the beautiful screens of lavishly painted figures and backdrops begins to fall apart like gauze, revealing a plot that is intimated as much as it is revealed, with logic and coherence sacrificed for ambiance and effect.
But no matter; I was content to sit back and gorge on the visual candy that was placed on the screen. Two headed men explode into sapphire butterflies; the Doctor follows tubes and tunnels down into what eventually turns out to be the massive, hollowed, and translucent shell of her suspect who’s skin has been reduced to amber hued stain-glass windows; a parade to shame any Carnival or Mardi Gras riots through the minds of its victims, composed of dancing frogs, anatomy dummies, china dolls, robots, the Statue of Liberty and much, much more.
As the walls between dream and reality collapse, it behooves the watcher to not ask why, but rather to simply sit back and enjoy the chaos and beauty that unfolds before them.