Kuchu Buranko (Trapeze, lit. Sky Swing) is like a late night bevy of cocktails: all bright colours and mind altering effects. The first three episodes are an all out assault on aesthetics, everything is awash with luminous colours and textured with polka dots or garish swathes of clashing patterns. Sometimes barely discernible from the backdrops, the characters are animated haphazardly when they are at all, often devolving into poorly filtered live-action or blatant rotoscoping and other times jerking between poses with little warning. Like its closet meretricious sibling, Gankutsuou, the visuals are only meant to allure and the real meat of the episodes is worth risking sensory overload.
Beyond the scratchy, haphazard style it often feels like a technicolour slideshow
The mostly standalone stories are about individuals who have some sort of mental affliction which is examined by the whimsical psychiatrist Ichiro Irabu who changes form between an obnoxious green rabbit with permanent facial stubble, a precocious young boy whose lab coat is several sizes too large for him and an androgynous bespectacled boy in his late teens or early twenties. Even the patients are not immune to switching states, often depicted as animals which suit their condition; topping all of this madness off is a supposedly real life psychiatrist Fukuicchi who sporadically pops out of a scene for an aside on the current disorder being explored. The series so far is raucous, visually boggling and brilliant fun to watch.
Given such an auspicious and confusing opening three episodes, it would have been easy for ef to fall into obscurity and abstraction with deep symbolism and obscured plot; thankfully this is not the case and the series manages to make the absurdly stylistic symbolism part of itself while still a sometimes unique, not wholly original story which ends well at a petite twelve episodes.
the grayscale visions of Hiro, the stained glass technicolour of Chihiro and the sunset beaches for everyone
In between the astounding opening and changing ending are two stories: one about a high school boy trying to find colour in his world while trying to deal with the affections of two girls, one overt and another covert; the other is about a girl whose memory lasts only a scant thirteen hours before events begin slipping away and her relationship with a boy she meets at an abandoned train station. The plot may sound akin to an atypical dating-sim territory but the storytelling is first rate and deftly draws one into the world and its characters. The supernatural elements that nagged the opening episodes are present but downplayed; the ephemeral figure of a long haired woman who imparts advice to all of the central characters and then vanishes is never explained even slightly, the same with the silent, world weary caretaker of the memory-challenged protagonist. The only time these elements are brought to the fore is in the final moments of the series, hinting more at a desire for a second season rather than anything that would affect the first.
It's not a stretch to say that Paprika is the movie that Satoshi Kon has been building up to. Simply attaching his name to a film indicates its content: a trip into the human psyche where perspectives blend and questions about the nature of "self" are posed. This is no different and follows a similar formula to his other films where alternate realities begin to intrude on actual reality, eventually blurring the already indistinct line between the two. Intellectualism and introspection aside, while not a different blueprint to previous movies such as Perfect Blue or Millennium Actress, Paprika is far better paced and perhaps a lot more subtle than previous works, helped no doubt by the blindingly excellent animation from auteur favourite, Madhouse studios.
opening with a rampant and glittering circus performance, and ending with a chaotic and destructive parade
The questions Paprika asks are not new to anyone who has had a cursory glance at the philosophy and literature surrounding recent Hollywood fare, most notably The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind among others; how it asks them is unique though. The film focuses on a device which allows a psychotherapy professional to both view and interact with a person's dreams, potentially identifying the root cause of their psychological problem and "fixing" it; this sets up a tight cast of characters ranging from an obese genius to a duplicitous therapist to a troubled police officer, all of whom take part in a technicolour journey that eventually culminates in a potentially world-altering event. The aforementioned therapist has the titular alter ego whose flippancy is only matched by her choice of attire and it is through her eyes and dives into dreamscapes that the story unfolds.