Dir: Satoshi Kon. Japan2006. 90mins.

Satoshi Kon proves againwith the teen- and adult-oriented feature Paprikajust why he is one of the most interesting anime Japanese directors right now.On the evidence here it's easy to see why his work, rather than the more conventionalTales Of Earthsea - directed by HiyakiMiyazaki's son Goro - made it into the maincompetition at Venice.

It's not that Kon is breaking any new technical ground: Paprika is firmly within the 2-Dtradition pioneered by Tohei Animation during the1960s and perfected by Studio Ghibli. But what Kon adds to the genre is a post-modern sense of how thevisual warps that animation allows can be complemented by a new sort ofdissolving, multi-layered story that plays mind games with its audience.

Breakout anime prospects beyondhome are difficult to second-guess, with high-profile non-HiyakiMiyazaki titles like Steamboyunder-performing beyond Japan. But Paprikais a more cult, urban, streetwise product than Katsuhiro Otomo'snarratively chaotic period piece, and it couldgenerate some arthouse interest outside of its coreAsian market. Niche DVD prospects will be solid: anime fansiteshave been full of buzz for months about Kon's firstanimated feature since Tokyo Godfathersin 2003.

"Imagine if you coulddownload your dreams - and so could others", the tagline for Paprika might read. Based on Yasutaka Tsutsui's sci-fi novel, the occasionally confusing plot followsAtsuko, a cool, self-possessed psychotherapist who has a younger, feisty, playfulalter ego known as Paprika.

With the help of a deviceknown as the DC Mini, Atsuko/Paprika can enter her patient's dreams; the gadgetalso allows dreams to be downloaded and played back on a computer ("Don't youthink dreams and the Internet are similar'" one character asks).

But when four DC Minis arestolen from the lab, and a research assistant called Himurogoes missing, bizarre things start happening. Lab workers go crazy and beginspouting poetic drivel: it soon transpires that someone is hacking into theirdreams, altering them and extending them into their waking life.

Atsuko/Paprika soon realisesthat the only way to solve the mystery and catch the culprit is to enter thedreams herself, including that of Konakawa, a detectivewho is also working on the case.

Soon however, the dreamsbegin to invade each other and turn into a huge collective nightmare, andPaprika is forced to save the world from slipping its moorings with reality.

In recent years, Richard Linklater and features like Waking Life and A ScannerDarkly have attracted much attention with their intriguing cross-fertilisationof rotoscoping technique, story theme and scriptstructure. Paprika may look moreconventional than either of his films, but Kon's fourthfull-length production is still one of the more refreshingly original animationtitles we are likely to see this year.

Kon gives the exercise a cinematic feel by using fastedits, handheld sequences, and close-ups with blurred backgrounds. He alsothrows plenty of cinematic and cultural references into the mix, from asinister abandoned theme park that suggests the Land Of Toys in Pinocchio to paintings like Ingres' Oedipus And The Sphinx and an entertaining discussion betweenPaprika and Konakawa on eyelinematching techniques.

But it's with the twistedcarnival procession that leaps virally from dream to dream and ends up invadingthe real streets of the real town that Kon reallylets himself go. Buddha, the Virgin Mary and Japanese cultural icons from samuraistatues to silk geisha dolls and Hello Kitty are all in there, alongsideanthropomorphised fridges, standard lamps, and other domestic junk. If John Tenniel, the original illustrator of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, had been reincarnated as ananime director then he might have produced something like this.

A blaring Japaneseelectro-pop soundtrack enhances the garish oddness of the dream sequences, witha riff that accompanies the carnival procession almost evoking the giddy waltzrhythm of The Stranglers' Golden Brown.

Production companies/backers
Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan) Inc

Worldwide distribution
Sony Pictures Releasing International

Jungo Maruta
Masao Takiyama

Minakami Seishi
Satoshi Kon
based on an original story by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Michiya Kato

Animation director
Masahi Ando

Colour design
Satoshi Hashimoto

Takeshi Seyama

Susumu Hirasawa