I was surprised and saddened today to learn that Satoshi Kon, a Japanese anime filmmaker and manga writer, died 2 weeks ago in Tokyo, at 46 years old. Surprised because he was pretty young, and saddened because he directed one of my favorite films in recent memory, a little anime sci-fi flick called Paprika.
Now, I'm not the biggest anime fan in the world; I like Cowboy Bebop as much as the next guy, and I've dabbled in other anime from time to time, but on the whole it's not really my thing. But Paprika is simply one of the craziest, most imaginative, psychedelically outrageous films I've ever encountered, anime or no.
The premise: in the near future, a device called the DC Mini allows psychiatrists to enter their patient's dreams as a form of psychotherapy. Dr. Atsuko Chiba, a serious young woman who's heading the development of the project, is testing the prototype of the machine, assuming a dream alter-ego in the form of an adorable, cheerful redhead named Paprika. It's not long, however, before the device is stolen, and soon people's dreams are being invaded by an unknown malignant presence that's screwing with people's heads and blurring the line between dreams and reality. Dr. Chiba/Paprika has to figure out who's stolen the device before it's too late.
(Side note: if this all sounds pretty Inception-esque to you, don't be alarmed--the movies do share a similar basic premise, but stylistically they're completely different. Inception has a dream world that looks and feels pretty much the same as "reality" in the film. Paprika...well, Paprika has thousands of geisha dolls speaking in unison and a man who keeps turning into butterflies. That should tell you enough right there.)
The plot gets more and more convoluted as the movie goes on, drawing in a secondary story about a detective who has a recurring dream about a murder, and things get pretty garbled towards the end, but it doesn't really matter--the film's dream-logic requires you to let go of the particulars and enjoy the outrageous, surreal, often-disturbing on-screen chaos (and I do mean disturbing--despite being animated, this is most assuredly not a movie for kids). By the end I wasn't sure I knew what was happening, but I was nonetheless satisfied.
I don't want to say much more for fear of spoilers, but if you're at all interested in anime, dreams, and/or bizarre/psychedelic experiences, this one comes highly recommended. It's too bad Kon had to kick the bucket when he did--he was, apparently, in the process of creating another dream-themed film, which may or may not still be released. Fingers crossed.