Dreams are the last place the slumbering sitting ducks in Satoshi Kon's surreal, animated psychological thriller want to be after someone nasty steals an experimental device that opens a door into other people's subconscious ramblings.
By day, prim, buttoned-down Dr. Atsuko Chiba (voice of Megumi Hayashibara) is an ordinary psychiatrist, one of many affiliated with a bright, well-funded institute for mental therapy and research. But by night she's Paprika, a fearless gamine who roots around her patients' dreams for clues about their fears and neuroses, courtesy of an experimental device called the DC-Mini. The trouble begins when one of the four prototypes of the machine is stolen and Chiba's colleagues begin having mind-bending nightmares. Or rather, the same nightmare is colonizing all their minds, a bad dream whose centerpiece is a parade of kitsch: Everything from walking appliances to the Statue of Liberty, a pack of maneki nekko and a mountain of blank-eyed dollies, including one whose chubby porcelain arm appears raised in a permanent Nazi salute, marching boldly into a thicket of trees. Under the dream's influence, victims go on wild destructive rampages, hurting themselves and others, and the Institute's director orders all dream therapy canceled until further notice. But with the help of one of her patients, the tormented Detective Toshimi Kogawa (Akio Otsuka), Chiba/Paprika continues sneaking into the minds of others in hopes of figuring out who's behind the dream assault.
Loosely adapted from sci-fi writer Yasutaka Tsutsui's novel, Kon's movie draws liberally from rubber-reality tales that include STRANGE DAYS (1995), David Cronenberg's EXISTENZ (1999), THE CELL (2000), the largely forgotten DREAMSCAPE (1984) and even the "A. B. or C." episode of classic TV mindfreak The Prisoner. But the freaky, seductively bizarre sights are all Kon's, from the psycho-circus of Konakawa's night terrors to Paprika's transformation into a winged captive pinned to a collector's table. If less thematically dazzling than his MILLENNIUM ACTRESS (2001), it's suffused with a giddy sense of the seething, mutable landscape of the mind, the place where H.P. Lovecraft's tentacled nightmares jostle for space with folkloric frogs, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), Tarzan and explosive swarms of electric-blue butterflies. It's a great place to visit, even if you wouldn't want to live there. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh