A young starlet questions reality itself in Satoshi Kon’s Hitchcockian thriller
“Nobody cares for you anymore. You’re tarnished and you’re filthy.”
That is the sentiment that follows our lead character, music idol Mima, as she attempts to transition from her musical trio, to a serious, mature actor throughout the movie. At her final concert, she notices a strange man who seems obsessed with her. Later, she discovers a website called Mima’s Room, a blog written in the first-person, from Mima’s point of view. She finds this amusing at first, but when the details become more and invasive, Mima begins to wonder where this mysterious blogger is getting the information.
As her old band starts to get successful, Mima is left wondering if she’s taken the right path, egged on by her manager, despite her friend Rumi’s objections. Things don’t seem much better at her job when, after she agrees to do a rape scene, and her public image changes, she begins to find it difficult to make distinct the line between her show, and her real life. She begins to see her old self, talking to her in mirrors, taunting her that people no longer respect her. And soon, bodies start to pile up: The writer of the rape scene, the photographer who convinced her to pose nude. Is this the work of Mima, or an obsessed fan who refuses to accept the actress’ change of image?
Novelist Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s story of the perils of stardom and online fandom has managed to stay even more relevant than it was upon the film’s initial release. Mima’s struggle to move away from her cutesy image into that of a mature woman, while fans obsess over her online is startlingly prescient and continues to speak volumes even today. While Perfect Blue is a direct commentary on the way Japan sees its starlets, comparisons to Western culture are pretty easy to make. Everyone, from her agent, to Rumi, to her fans see her as a thing, an icon, they can utilise, barely acknowledging Mima the Person. The decisions she is making might be naïve or foolish, but when everyone around her treats her like her choices don’t matter and acts on her behalf, it’s not a surprise that she starts to lose her mind.
Kon uses the medium of animation well in depicting Mima’s mental state. A live-action interpretation would struggle to keep some of the outlandish visuals in the serious tone they’re intended, but it works in its drawn form (though I have learnt that both a live action film and TV show exist, so maybe they did it well), and Kon is able to juggle reality, fantasy, dream sequences and movie plots and blend them seamlessly into each other. The audience spends as much time as Mima concerned and confused as to the reality of the situation they’re seeing. Visually, however, Perfect Blue stays largely with a faded palette and a two dimensional look which echoes the seriousness of the situation. An over-the-top anime colour scheme might have killed some of the atmosphere.
Where the movie shines is in its Mima-centric story. The carpet is repeatedly pulled from under the audiences’ feet, notably so in a scene where Mima awakens multiple times in a row to what seems to be the exact same scene. It’s a disorienting moment that completely throws the movie off-balance in a wonderful way, and forces the audience to reconsider what they’ve been watching. As the insanity keeps growing, Sadayuki Murai’s excellent, tight script manages to keep things focused and this lets us stick with Mima through every painful twist and turn.
There’s a reason Perfect Blue is a favourite among anime fans. It’s the perfect showcase to prove that the medium is more than just schoolgirls fighting demons, and takes a hell of a lot less time to watch than Monster. It uses its animation medium well, without resorting to cartoonish extreme, giving us a well-plotted, smart film that’ll entertain any thriller fan and might be a good first step for those unsure, but looking to get into anime.
Verdict: Gripping from start to finish, Perfect Blue is a damn fine animated thriller.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Jarring shifts between reality and fiction: lots!
Favourite visual: During the chase, with the cheerful Mima ghost, and her reflection
Fish: Alive? Dead? It’s hard to tell when the backgrounds don’t move
Perfect Blue (1997)
Also known as: Perfect Blue (パーフェクトブルー Pāfekuto Burū)
Director: Satoshi Kon
Writers: Sadayuki Murai (screenplay), Yoshikazu Takeuchi (novel)
Mima Kirigoe – Junko Iwao
Rumi – Rica Matsumoto
Tadokoro – Shinpachi Tsuji
Me-Mania – Masaaki Okura
Tejima – Yosuke Akimoto
Takao Shibuya – Yoku Shioya
Sakuragi – Hideyuki Hori
Eri Ochiai – Emi Shinohara
Mureno – Masashi Ebara
Director – Kiyoyuki Yanada
Yatazaki – Toru Furusawa
Yukiko – Emiko Furukawa
Rei – Shiho Niiyama
Tadashi Doi – Akio Suyama