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31 Days Of Horror: PERFECT BLUE

Anime director Satoshi Kon only directed four films and one television show (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers, Paranoia Agent) during his lifetime, but everything he put out was met with critical acclaim, both in Japan and in the West.

The overriding theme of Kon’s career was exploring what happens when the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. His directorial debut, 1997’s Perfect Blue is a perfect (if you’ll pardon me) example. A gripping psychological thriller that exerts Hitchcock-esque intensity over the viewer until they’re no longer sure just where the real ends and the nightmare begins.

The Plot

Based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel of the same name, the film opens with Mima Kirigoe (voiced in English by Bridget Hoffman, credited here as Ruby Marlowe), the lead singer of the popular J-pop idol group CHAM!, announcing at a small daytime concert that she’s leaving the group to become an actress. That night, Mima receives a mysterious fax calling her a traitor.

Understandably freaked out, Mima shows the fax to her mananger, ex-pop star Rumi (Wendee Lee), but Rumi tells her not to worry about it. While looking through Mima’s mail, Rumi finds a fan letter addressed to Mima that contains the link to a website called “Mima’s Room.”

The two look at it (with Rumi teaching Mima how to use a computer/the Internet, since this is 1997) and find that it’s a diary site composed of entries by someone posing as Mima. While charmed at first, Mima gets quickly creeped out. Again, Rumi tells her not to worry.

With the help of her agent Tadokoro (Barry Stigler), Mima lands a small part in a crime drama series called Double Bind. Impressed with her work, the producers give her a larger role as a stripper who gets assaulted and raped onstage. While Rumi discourages her from filming the scene, Mima goes through with it anyway, and shortly after poses nude for a magazine shoot.

After shooting the rape scene, Mima’s world starts unraveling. A terrifying, hoodie-clad man, who virtually never speaks, now appears wherever she goes, and the viewer learns he goes by the name “Me-Mania.” Mima also begins seeing visions of herself in her CHAM! outfit. The other Mima insists she’s the real one, and that Mima is ruining her reputation and that she’s an imposter.

As the line between dream and reality blurs tighter and tighter, Mima becomes disoriented and unsure of the world about her. And that’s before the screenwriter of Double Bind is found with his eyes stabbed out and hacked to death in an elevator…

Gore & Scares

There is gore in this film, but it’s not over-the-top or bombastic; it’s certainly not torture porn. Instead, it’s rather restrained. There’s a lot of brutal violence here, but it’s in service to the story.

The most violent acts in the movie are all murders, and they’re the sort of murders you see in any R-rated crime film. But the beauty of the animation allows the blood to flow freely, and it does so with chilling effect.

Some critics, when this film was released, questioned as to why it had to be animated at all. The clear answer comes in the character design and Mima’s deteriorating state of mind. As to character design, the froglike Rumi and the terrifying, brutish Me-Mania couldn’t be done with live action, not now and certainly not in ’97. (The latter has a very striking, haunting appearance, and he hovers over the film like a even more ghoulish Boo Radley.)

Mima’s collapsing psyche also would have been hard to visualize in live action. Her doppelganger moves and is lit in a way that explicitly states her otherworldliness and makes her very unsettling. That intersection and straddling of dream and reality is far easier to understand and absorb in one plane. A live-action version would’ve had to rely on special effects, which just wouldn’t have worked.

The main scares in this movie are all psychological. A large chunk of the film involves Mima repeatedly waking up in her bed after something traumatic happens, and as that sequence repeats over and over again, the viewer becomes uncertain of what is happening or whether it’s even real.

I said earlier that the film is Hitchcockian, and it really is. It’s every bit as suspenseful as Rope or Pscyho. Perhaps the biggest debt Kon owes to Hitchcock is in the staging of the rape scene. The camera alternates between the action, Mima’s face, and the set’s chandelier, which whirls around over and over in dizzying horror.

Overall

While promoting his 2010 film Black Swan, director Darren Aranofsky acknowledged the similarities between his film and this, but didn’t say it was an influence. Given that Kon met Aranofsky in his lifetime and blogged about his enjoyment of Requiem For A Dream, that there was some sort of artistic back-and-forth between two directors of psychologically intense material is not a surprising notion.

This is a fine film that, while maybe a bit too surreal at times, is a strongly assured debut from one of the most famous anime filmmakers of all time. Kon blends his own preoccupations and thoughts on modern Japanese life and show business with the feel of Hitchcock and the darker imagery of Terry Gilliam (one of Kon’s favorite filmmakers who later included Blue in his list of best animated films).

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars 

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Categories: Anime Reviews

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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6 Comments on “31 Days Of Horror: PERFECT BLUE”

  1. 10/28/2014 at 11:28 AM #

    Reblogged this on tomtificate and commented:
    Forgot to reblog this yesterday. It’s a very good film. Watch it with friends if you can. Better to facilitate discussion.

  2. 10/30/2014 at 1:41 PM #

    Nice review there, Tom. I’ve seen this earlier this year and it’s definitely a great film to watch.

  3. 10/30/2014 at 3:08 PM #

    Thanks Mark! I agree it is tremendous.

  4. 12/16/2015 at 12:39 AM #

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. SATOSHI KON’S OPUS Review: Meta Force | Another Castle - 11/04/2014

    […] the last manga by the late Kon before he went on to work in animation with his debut film, Perfect Blue. It’s in 1996’s OPUS that we see what would later become Kon’s trademark […]

  2. Best of 2014 Review Wrap-up: Mark | Another Castle - 12/12/2014

    […] 31 Days Of Horror: PERFECT BLUE […]

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