Monday, November 08, 2010

a dash of paprika

I recently watched two movies I've been wanting to see for a while, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by the great Hayao Miyazaki and Paprika, by Satoshi Kon. I have been a huge fan of Miyazaki for ages, but only recently discovered Kon, unfortunately coinciding with his recent death from cancer.

Both movies feature strong female heroines, something that is quite common in Japanese animation, anime. Why is it so easy for audiences to accept a strong female hero, who is often still quite feminine when she is an animation, but not so easy when she is flesh and blood? We seem to want our human heroines to be larger than life and to be able to kick butt and take names just like, well, men. Now don't get me wrong, I love Angelina Jolie in Wanted (although calling her a heroine in that movie is stretching it a bit— maybe female lead is more accurate), but part of the fun of being a girl is getting to dress up all purty, so it's fun to see that too. Buffy Summers could pull it off.

Nausicaä, who also happens to be a princess, but blessedly unlike the typical Disney concept of the same, is smart, resourceful, compassionate— everything a true leader should be. She is willing to sacrifice herself to save the world, both flora and fauna. The drawing, as usual with Miyazaki, is just stunning. The hues of the blue sky and dry sands that Nausicaä glides over are fantastic. The unusual landscapes are somehow like nothing you've ever seen before and real at the same time. Miyazaki manages to work in an environmental theme as well. And even though the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world, my daughter was as thrilled as I. The Ohmu, insect-like creatures which are both threatened and threatening, could have easily just become monsters, but somehow Miyazaki gets us to care for them and their survival as much as the young princess.

Paprika, an adults-only anime, was just as wonderful, yet wildly different than Nausicaä. The eponymous heroine, who may be real or a dream, guides Kon's surreal tale. Part science fiction, part detective story, all fantasy, Paprika takes us on a strange trip through people's dreams and mind control. It splices together ideas about filmmaking, existence, and true love. Just when you think that things are getting too fantastic, Kon either adds or strips away another layer, sometimes simultaneously, to take you a little further down the rabbit hole. His animation is a wonderful collage of standard anime, realistic drawing, and photorealistic images. As dizzyingly as things moved, there were some sequences that will stay with me—Paprika pinned like a butterfly to a table, a crazy parade with good luck kitties and frogs, a man running down a hallway that melts around him.

When Paprika was over I tried to remove the disk from the DVD player, but instead of coming out, it just seemed to go deeper and deeper into the device. I slipped my hand into the slot where the disc tray is, but neither the tray nor the disc would budge. Suddenly I felt like I was in the movie Videodrome, which had flitted across my mind like one of Kon's blue butterflies while I was watching Paprika. I can't say I am a huge fan of that particular Cronenberg film. In fact one viewing many years ago was more than enough. But I can say that some of it's imagery—weird, even gross, was indelible. Like Paprika, not easily forgotten.

I finally had to get a screwdriver and loosen the top of the device to extract the disc, in case you wondered. But that's too real-world practical a solution and not interesting. I probably should have left things in the realm of dreams.
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