A few months ago I unwrapped one of those four-in-one dvds loaded with feature-length anime movies. I had heard of none of the movies before, but among them were Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service, which turned out to be fine movies by a director named Hayao Miyazaki. People familiar with anime know that Miyazaki has been around for over two decades, but I didn't, and Spirited Away, the first movie I watched on that DVD, was an experience I'm not sure I've shaken off. His movies are about worlds only a step away from our own, with soundtracks that you can't help but feel you know a version of. In Spirited Away, Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, and her parents stumble upon ruins after taking a wrong turn. They walk through the abandoned building into bright sunshine and green meadows, and a deserted carnival where steam rises from food that has only just been prepared. Have the carnival's visitors scampered, or are they yet to arrive? And who prepared all the food?
There are beautiful empty landscapes where nothing happens for ages, and scenes that invoke dreams; a train glides silently across the surface of an endless calm blue sea without a ripple. It's a haunting shot, and it's one of many here. I've replayed the scene many times in my head, and the happy feeling it gives me is inexplicable. I feel I've seen it and felt it somewhere before, but there's something incomplete about the thought. It's like knowing the answer to a question you can't remember.
"But what about the rest of it?"
In Paprika, which I picked up in Dubai recently, a scientific experiment has unexpected effects on people undergoing it, making some of them delusional and believers in their immortality, while others find their dreams and reality merging. A cop troubled by incomplete dreams takes up the case to find out why ordinary citizens with normal mental histories either run out of high-rise windows or go on unprovoked hitting sprees, or else suddenly begin to talk in the gibberish language of dreams. The man's dream remains the same - he's chasing someone he can't see, and the man eventually gets away, but not before he kills someone. The ground beneath his feet warps and a voice echoes through the dream, "But what about the rest of it?" He wakes up in a sweat.
In reviews Paprika has been likened to the Matrix trilogy, and many say that it isn't even the director's best work. Does it matter? The noisy soundtrack where instruments clash with each other, the nonsensical visuals that are too busy to be identifiable, the disjointed dialogue - they all combine to create the experience of a dream that has come to life. It takes on the meaning of cinema, literally, when a dream crashes through the screen in a cinema hall. Paprika isn't just about dreams, but their various interpretations.
But what about the rest of it? The line loops through the movie, and everytime the cop hears it he is in despair. Later we find out why, and it makes perfect sense. But the funny thing is, it stays with me. Yes indeed, what about the rest of it? What about the rest of what you're working on? What about the rest of a career? What comes next?
It's a question we've all asked of ourselves at one time or another, in one form or another.