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Movie review: 'Paprika'

3 stars (out of four)

Movies, it's often said, are the art form that most closely suggests the dream state--and "Paprika" is pretty joyously dreamy and disorienting for much of its length. Director/co-writer Satoshi Kon is a virtuoso of Japanese anime; 2003's "Tokyo Godfathers" was his stunning sci-fi remake of the 1948 John Ford western "Three Godfathers." Original author Yasutaka Tsutsui is one of his country's major science-fiction writers. Their joint creation is a movie about a world where you can enter other people's dreams at will, through the use of an invention called DC Mini, and where the dreams begin to invade both reality and other dreams as well.

Paprika is a fetching, sexy little adventuress and teenage "dream detective" who is perhaps the alter-ego of a svelte, more severe-looking psychotherapist and DC Mini researcher named Dr. Atsuko Chiba. (Megumi Hayashibara voices both roles.) As dreamed up by Tsutsui and visualized by Kon--who employs computerized imagery but also the old-fashioned animation favored by Hayao Miyazaki of "Spirited Away"--Paprika is an intrepid, endlessly resourceful charmer, surrounded by a spicy supporting cast that includes rotund, geeky scientific genius/DC inventor Tokita (Toru Furuya), somewhat Yoda-like research boss Shima (Katsunosuke Hori), sinister corporate chairman Inui (Toru Emori), handsome mystery man Osanai (Kouichi Yamadera) and super-tough, mustachioed police detective Konakawa (Akio Ohtsuka).

Right from the opening scene--where Konakawa finds himself at a circus attacked by an audience full of people who all have his face and mustache, up to the nerve-rattlingly cheery parade of huge dolls, frogs and strutting refrigerators that keeps marching up and down the streets, to the horrifying specter of Shima as a giant, murderous tree--the movie keeps flooding us with strange, scary imagery. A lot of it reminded me, on a less elaborate level, of the playful nightmare visions in Winsor McCay's supreme Slumberland comic strip "Little Nemo," which inspired a nifty Japanese animated feature in 1990 . We've gotten perhaps too used to the computerized wizardry of our own cartoon features; Kon, like Miyazaki shows us some older ways that can still transfix us.

----

'Paprika'

In Japanese, with English subtitles.Running time: 1:30. Opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema and CineArts 6 in Evanston. MPAA rating: R (for violent and sexual images).

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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