If someone under the influence of psychedelic drugs were to read Maurice Sendak's books while "The Matrix" glowed softly in the background, the images streaming through his brain might approximate "Paprika," the latest adult-targeted anime feature from Satoshi Kon.
Based on the novel by Japanese science-fiction writer Yasutaka Tsutsui, the film imagines the invention of a psychotherapy tool (the DC Mini) that enables doctors to step inside their patients' dreams — and shows what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands.
The title comes from the leading lady, a staid therapist named Dr. Atsuko Chiba (voiced by Megumi Hayashibara). In dream sessions, she transforms into a spicy nymph named Paprika so she can literally work with the innermost thoughts of those she's treating.
When someone steals her lab's DC Minis (the only ones in existence) and begins infiltrating people's brains to do evil, this doubly strong woman risks her life to track down the perpetrator and protect the device she has worked so hard to promote.
Picking up on themes Mr. Kon has tackled before (in works including "Perfect Blue" and "Millennium Actress") "Paprika" draws a futuristic world where the real and the imagined, the individual and the machine meld into one blurred fantasy of two-dimensional animation. In many ways, it's the perfect medium for such an exploration. Here, viewers are whisked away from their live-action expectations (and disbelief) and injected into a realm where realistic images and ideas already are a shade closer to daydreams and delusions.
The frames themselves echo this juxtaposition, layering elements such as a freakish doll parade over a beautifully rendered cityscape or a character's transmogrification over a stunningly sketched wall of boxed, preserved butterfly carcasses. A score by Susumu Hirasawa also heightens the mind-trip effect, with techno-fueled pop songs and menacing marches that build on the film's garish quality.
For audiences who haven't yet discovered that "animated" doesn't always equal kiddie fare, this is a powerful primer. It packs a strong visual punch, stirs in some racy ingredients and paints so many coats of twists over its plot that it takes a mature mind to even begin sorting it all out.
RATING: R (Violent and sexual images)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Satoshi Kon. Based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui.
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics. com/paprika/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS