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June 03, 2007

Aurora (Colorado) Asian Film Festival, Part 3

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Paprika/Papurika
Satoshi Kon - 2006
Sony Pictures Classics 35mm Film

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Time/Shi Gan
Kim Ki-duk - 2006
Lifesize Entertainment 35mm Film

Between the giant toys of Paprika and the giant sculptures of Time, as well as the psychological breakdowns of the characters in both films, Saturday evening's pair of films strangely worked as a double feature about people and their dreams, and their sense of self. In Paprika the main female character final unites the two versions of herself, while in Time the female character remains hopelessly divided in her identity.

I usually, at best, ambivalent about anime. While I recognize and appreciate the craftsmanship, I find myself losing interest in the stories. The story for Paprika is so convoluted that I am unable to relay it in such a way that it would make sense. It is sufficient to say that the plot revolves around a machine called the DC Mini, which enables people to see and even be in other peoples' dreams. The DC Mini has been stolen by a former colleague of the scientists who created the machine.

But what makes Paprika worth seeing is that Kon fully takes advantage of what makes animated films unique. The film is ultimately a dream about movies, as well as a movie about dreams. The way characters jump in and out of settings first made me think of Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., perhaps the original virtual reality movie. One can also easily link Paprika to such films as David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. In another moment that may be a nod to Cronenberg, two of the characters jump into a television screen. Because this is a truly animated film, Kon creates a universe where a long office hallway and walls suddenly undulate with the solidity of a half-filled waterbed, characters in advertisements leap out into other billboards or out into the streets, and giant toy dolls threaten the planet.

It is the dense and detailed imagery that makes Paprika stand out. Frames are crowded with giant marching frogs, large appliances and living dolls. The goofy spirit of the film is close to the self-refererential work of the Fleischer Brothers' earlier work with Koko the Clown and Betty Boop. The story loops around itself like a mobius strip, with dreams and dreams within dreams.

Paprika, the character, dreams of a street where there are old fashion movie theaters, one of which shows Roman Holiday. Kon even has a character going to a multiplex that is showing nothing but Kon's previous features on each of the screens. Movies have informed Kon's films, so that Perfect Blue is an anime thriller that has reminders of Hitchcock, De Palma and Argento. Tokyo Godfathers, with both its plot about an abandoned baby and Christmas setting could well have been inspired by John Ford's Three Godfathers. While Kon has not cited specific films as influences on Paprika, he did agree with the observation that his new film was "like a collision of Hello Kitty and Philip K.Dick."

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Time is a less formal film from Kim Ki-duk. Unlike his previous films, the characters are less isolated from the rest of the world. The film starts off with footage of cosmetic surgery which is the plot device for Kim's film. But what Kim is primarily interested in is the relationship between the observer and the observed. In addition to having scenes pivot on how people react to others' physical appearance, photographs, paintings and sculpture function as commentary and as plot devices. The similarity of cosmetic surgery to sculpture is perhaps too obvious, but Kim has chosen to have several scenes take place in an art park with sculptures of giant bodies and body parts, and even a huge sea shell big enough to walk in.

A young woman, Seh-hee, decides to undergo plastic surgery thinking that her boyfriend, Ji-woo finds her no longer attractive after two years. The essential story of Time is not original. The question regarding whether one is love with the person for how they look, or for some inner quality has been done in countless films. It's also the essence of every episode of "Nip/Tuck". Kim does take his theme into some unexpected directions as well as refreshing the familiar.

Ji-woo is a film editor and photographer. One of the characters is a painter with a scene in a gallery. As mentioned, much of Time takes place in a sculpture garden. While art is an important component in Time, the film itself is not as self-consciously arty as some of Kim's previous films. The comparison to other Kim films needs to be regarded in a matter of degrees, with the formal qualities toned down in favor of a more dialogue driven narrative. While Time might be considered more accessible than some of Kim's other films, the plastic surgery plot still won't get him confused with George Cukor or even Larry Peerce. What makes Time different from other films by Kim is that in previous films the main character will go through trials before finally gaining a new sense of self. Time has an ending, perhaps borrowed from the great film about changeable identities, Darkman, in which a character loses their physical identity in order to be lost in the crowd.

Posted by peter at June 3, 2007 03:20 PM