Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Satoshi Kon, "Paprika" (2006).

Despite my fascination with most pop culture phenomena, I have a record of snubbing anime. There is something about its predominant illustrative style that strikes me as perverse. It has something to do with the wide-eyed characters that marry a subtly Asian look with the stereotypical portrayal of a Western fashion model, and cross it with a pre-pubescent. These creations come off as simultaneously alien and ageless. I have a difficult time investing any amount of compassion or empathy in these creatures. Similarly I find the themes of most of the work inapproachable and vaguely unsettling. For the most part the stories are presented with a heavy dose of science fiction. That's a genre I know little about and have relatively little interest in.

So when I come across a promotion for an anime film (a term which is in fact technically redundant), I tend to discount it. I'm just not that excited to explore the art form. I expect to see heroes that are sexualized little girls being forced to fellate octopi. No thanks, I'll pass. I'm already inundated with ample perversion by my own culture. The last thing I need to see is the embodied id of a generally repressed people that have succumbed to the thrall of their own dark fantasies. I always picture a bunch of middle-aged Japanese men clad in T-shirts featuring videogame icons from the 80's, sitting around the table and dreaming up plot points during their breaks from whatever arcane role playing game has captivated their attentions.

And yet... I realize that I am giving in to my most stereotypical perceptions and biases. Perhaps I'm making the mistake of confusing all anime for hentai. After all, it's more of a "medium" than a genre. There's nothing inherently limiting in Japanese cartooning. It can be about anything. This realization gives me enough pause that I occasionally give in, and seek to learn what all the fuss is about. I've purchased Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, and been captivated by it. Its like a wholly original Alice in Wonderland, without the not-so-subtle undercurrents of pedophilia. Additionally I bought Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies on a whim, and am just waiting for the appropriate mood to watch what I have heard is an extremely depressing work of art.

My point is that once in awhile an anime breaks through to a wider consciousness and is recommended as being atypical (i.e. something that the novitiate can appreciate). Such is the case with Satoshi Kon's Paprika. Somehow the film struck a chord with Western art-house adherents. I bought it pre-viewed at Blockbuster, and popped it in last night. It's certainly a wild ride. Kon adapted it from a novel by "avant-garde" sci-fi author Yasutaka Tsutsui, who actually approached the director at a convention and requested his famous novel be adapted for the screen. Predictably, Paprika has many of the off-putting convolutions one might expect from such futuristic material. Yet there is more to it than that.

Tsutsui's work was fraught with intense dream imagery. It can be appreciated best by letting the plot assume the background. As Kon points out on the interviews included as extras on the DVD, he started with the visuals and attempted to work an entertaining plot around them. He succeeds completely in his endeavor. Apart from the meandering and vaguely comprehensible plot lines, Paprika is absolutely overwhelming. It has a look that avoids the aforementioned clich├ęs that put me off the bulk of anime. The surreal fantasy elements are unencumbered by weird sexual overtones and mind-numbing action sequences. It doesn't rely on making sense to be entertaining. That's why it succeeds at the level of quality art. In this respect it is indescribable, so I'll merely recommend you give it a chance despite whatever assumptions you might have.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I love Bukake films. I think I'll try anime.

Japanese culture is very unique. A world in itself. We think we know them ad they are not mysterious cause they play baseball and we buy Toyotas but they are mysterious.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way the Bukake film thing was kind of a joke. Google at your own risk.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thanks for the clarification. It is important to realize that such a search is NSFW.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, You might want to put some kind of condom on your computer before doing it or better yet wrap it in saran wrap. The few times I did it I got 4 or 5 viruses, each one strong enough to destroy a small business.

9:58 PM  

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