Anime, the Japanese form of cartooning, has yielded far more animated features in its 40-some-year existence than the rest of the world put together. From this teeming, often dark and astonishingly sophisticated output, Satoshi Kon’s last completed film is one of the most forbidding and beguiling. It’s an R-rated psychological detective story about a machine, the DC Mini, that offers the key to unlock the meaning of dreams — even as animation is, in a way, the key to unlock the feeling of dreams. A police detective hopes to solve a murder by telling his dreams to the sexy Paprika, who is also a staid researcher named Atsuko. They are aided or threatened by the usual sci-fi-noir suspects, but the plot is so complicated, it’s best not to worry about parsing it and just go with the seductively somnambulist flow, which is where the movie finds its true life. Paprika alternates dream with reality, or abruptly fuses the two, until the detective, and the viewer, can’t tell them apart.
Kon, whose earlier films included the sado-thriller Perfect Blue and the movie-crazy Millennium Actress and who died in 2010 at 46 of pancreatic cancer, saw modern media as not linear but oneiric. “Don’t you think that dreams and the Internet are similar?” asks Paprika. “They’re both places where the repressed conscious mind vents.” But the place where the detective will unlock his mystery is a movie palace, the dark cathedral where the communicants’ separate obsessions become one dream on a giant screen. And the most fluid form of movies is animation. Paprika is both an argument for and a demonstration of animation’s power to put us into a state of alert hypnosis. Watch the images that float by, the impulses that pass from the characters to you. You are getting … very … dreamy.