Eye For Film >> Movies >> Paranoia Agent: The Complete Series Box Set (2004) Film Review
In the very first episode of this 13-part anime, sleazy journalist Akio Kawazu ties a cherry stalk into a perfect knot using only his tongue. We have been here before, when Sherilyn Fenn's Audrey performed the same memorable act in David Lynch's cult TV series Twin Peaks. Far from being a casual reference, this echo represents a programmatic statement of allegiance, given that, like Twin Peaks, Paranoia Agent (aka Mousou Dairinin) will be a surreal investigation of a closed society's dark psychic underbelly - except that where Lynch focused on a small American lumber-town, Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers) is slugging at no less a target than the urbane denizens of Japan's capital Tokyo.
Dreamy, catatonically shy designer Tsukiko Sagi is under enormous pressure to come up with a new creation after the success of her pink toy dog Maromi, when one night she is violently attacked with a baseball bat by a boy on golden roller skates. At first the middle-aged, down-to-earth detective Keiichi Ikari is convinced the crime was all in Tsukiko's head. But after there is a succession of further assaults with no logical connection, Ikari's younger partner Mitsuhiro Maniwa decides to embark on a more unorthodox pursuit of the elusive skaterboy, dubbed Lil' Slugger by the media - a pursuit that will take him deep into the twisted fantasies and dark nightmares of Japanese society.
Kon's schizophrenic series - part bizarre mystery thriller, part incisive social satire - teems with similarly schizophrenic characters, all lost in their own little worlds and out of touch with reality. Characters such as Tsukiko Sagi, who is more at home with her own fictitious creations than with any kind of objective truth. Or Yuichi Taira, a schoolboy caught between dreams of success and nightmares of failure. Or Harumi Chono (aka Maria), violently split by multiple personality disorder between being a demure university assistant by day and a libidinous call girl by night.
And then there is Masami Hirukawa, who is at once a substation cop and a masked criminal, a loving family man and a paedophile, and who is attracted to the heroic moral code of his favourite manga even as he has become corrupted by his links to the yakuza. Or teenaged Kozuka, mapping out his every experience according to the rules of a fantasy rôle-playing game. Or (in the highly reflexive tenth episode) Naoyuki Saruta, production manager on a new cartoon series, unable to acknowledge his own incompetence as pressures mount to meet deadlines.
Then there are the gleeful suicide circles unable to distinguish life and death, the urban gossips unable to distinguish the actual from the fictional, and the anxiety-ridden masses in desperate need of false idols. Even the ultra-realist Ikari, who is as near as Paranoia Agent gets to a main character, easily becomes lost in his own nostalgic longing for the simpler values of his youth.
In this multifaceted work, everyone is confused, alienated and faced with a whacking great crisis of identity, as the conflicting demands of Japan's fragmented society, or just of modern life in general, engender intolerable stress and unhealthy escapism. Lil' Slugger's beatings may be vicious, but to his victims they are often less a horrific punishment than a welcome relief, as Kon suggests that, metaphorically speaking at least, we could all occasionally do with having some sense knocked into us.
If your experience of Japanese anime has so far been confined to bubblegum tweenies and manga mechas, then Kon's altogether more adult animation will come as a real revelation. Boasting a sophisticated range of narrative modes and visual styles to match its different characters' delusions, Paranoia Agent is engaging, enigmatic and always intelligent - and, like a baseball bat to the skull, it will make your head spin and your brain ache.Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2006