298. PERFECT BLUE (1997)

Pafekuto buru

“When you are watching the film, you sometimes feel like losing yourself in whichever world you are watching, real or virtual. But after going back and forth between the real and the virtual world you eventually find your own identity through your own powers. Nobody can help you do this. You are ultimately the only person who can truly find a place where you know you belong. That in essence is the whole concept. It is rather hard to explain.”– on Perfect Blue

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Satoshi Kon

CAST: Voices of Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Masaaki Ōkura; Ruby Marlowe (English dub), Wendee Lee (English dub), Bob Maex (English dub)

PLOT: Japanese pop idol Mima Kirigoe decides to retire from her group CHAM in to become an actress and change her image. She joins a soap opera where the storyline mysteriously reflects her own experiences, endures a stalker who posts intimate details from her life in a fake online diary, and finds several of her co-workers murdered. These events launch her into a psychotic identity crisis.

Still from Perfect Blue (1997)

BACKGROUND:

  • A protégé of , Perfect Blue was the first full-length film Satoshi Kon directed after working as a writer and layout animator.
  • Perfect Blue was based on the novel “Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis” by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. After a failed attempt at a live-action adaptation, Kon was approached to direct an animated version. The screenplay, however, didn’t interest Kon, who was eventually allowed to make any changes he wished as long as he kept three of the story’s elements: “idol”, “horror” and “stalker.” Kon said “the idea of a blurred border between the real world and imagination” was one of his contributions.
  • Sadly, Kon died of pancreatic cancer in 2010 at only 46 years old, with only four feature films to his name.
  • One of Kon’s notable disciples, , wrote a eulogy for that was published in the retrospective “Satoshi Kon’s Animated Works.” Kon’s work has influenced Aronofsky, with the harshest calling Black Swan (2010) a “rip-off” of Perfect Blue. Rumors suggest that Aronofsky bought the rights for a live-action remake of Blue; once the plans didn’t work out, he used them instead to emulate the film’s “bathtub sequence” in Requiem for a Dream.
  • Another of Kon’s western admirers, , placed Perfect Blue among his fifty favorite animated movies. Additionally, it was ranked #97 in Time Out’s list of best animated films of all time and #25 on Total Film’s similar list.
  • Perfect Blue won the Best Asian Film award at the 1997 Fantasia Film Festival (tied with The Legend of Drunken Master) and the Best Animated Film at 1998’s Fantasporto festival.
  • A live action version, Perfect Blue: Yume Nara Samete, which was more closer to the novel, was finally released in 2002. It was quickly forgotten.
  • Rafael Moreira’s Staff Pick for the Certified Weird list.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Mima’s doppelganger jumping between lampposts provides the most striking of many memorable compositions.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Lamppost-leaping phantasm; ghost emailing stalker; middle-aged idol

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though it takes its time, Perfect Blue is an effective psychodrama taking place in the mind of a despairing protagonist. By the time fiction, reality, fears and projections start to cross, and the psychosexual and horror elements enter the scene, you will know for sure that you’re watching an unconventional film, with an atmosphere likely to remind you of both a giallo and a ian psychic labyrinth.


UK trailer for Perfect Blue

COMMENTS: For the first half of its (short) running time, Perfect Blue is a straightforward rendering of am archetypal premise. Mima, one of three members of pop group CHAM, eagerly accepts a role in a crime drama series at the expense of her music career. As she tells her mother on the phone, “the pop idol image is suffocating me”. The transition, however, proves to be painful—and, later, even becomes a literal nightmare—as her fans seem unable to deal with the loss of the ever innocent, pink-clad Mima who sings joyfully on stage. Also unable to cope with the change is Mima’s manager Rumi, her protective mother figure.

Mima’s compulsive desire to grow beyond her public persona and the dissociation between it and her true self is what drives her crisis throughout the film. A major crack occurs when, after pressures from Mima’s agency to give her more screen time, the studio responds by casting her in an abrupt rape scene (Rumi cries at the sight). No moment could be more disturbing and bluntly symbolic of violent sexual awakening, and it marks the film’s tonal shift into much more deranged territory. From that point on, crew members of the series are murdered one by one, a stalker follows Mima in real life and the internet, and her immaculate idol image materializes as a taunting doppelganger accusing her of selling out and becoming a bastardization of herself.

What distinguishes Perfect Blue from similar stories is its emphasis on the protagonist’s subjective perspective, which, by the second half, has completely overtaken the screen and turned it into a sprawling and confusing blend of Mima’s hallucinations, her fictional role in the series, and her real life, all seamlessly infringing on one another to form a single, fascinatingly disorienting reality. In this phase of the film, arguably its best part, Kon proves masterful in his ability to probe a character’s psyche from the inside and to take the audience with him. The journey echoes David Lynch’s excursions to the subconscious—particularly in Lost Highwayand the highly stylized madness of Dario Argento’s most dreamlike movies.

Thanks to this approach, Mima’s breakdown becomes much more visceral because we perceive the world in the exact same way as her, in effect suffering from her condition. Even if it takes a while to get to this point—and some viewers are likely to be put off by the wait—it is compelling to witness such a chaotic struggle beneath Mima’s exaggeratedly innocent exterior. Her collapse looks like the decay of a doll. When we’re introduced to her, she appears as a childlike caricature, as if her idol career has isolated her in a malice-free world. It’s only when her circumstances become darker that the fears and anxieties boiling under her image aggressively manifest themselves. Surprisingly, the film’s ending rationalizes what preceded it through strangely positive resolution that ultimately salvages Mima’s identity. With such an uplifting final note, we are tempted to see the film as an individuation tale, a journey of psychological trauma and its subsequent overcoming. As an animated movie, it’s a mature one. Far from a gimmick, its weirdness is justified by a noble aspiration, in case, that of bringing us closer to a character throughout the shock, paranoia and hope of her journey.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an eerie, clammy, surreal, and wholly Japanese take on an old formulaic genre.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

“The mood is spot-on, then deliriously spottier… as both a pulpish, postmodern play on performance and a psycho-thriller identity-parade, Kon’s Perfect Blue is one woozy doozy of a debut.”–Brain Gibson, Vue Weekly (2016 screening)

“It’s heavily weighted towards Mima’s psychological disintegration (a la Repulsion), and its handling of the steadily eroding line of demarcation between her real life and her fantasy/working life is sophisticated and genuinely disorienting.”–Maitland McDonagh, Film Journal International

OFFICIAL SITE: PERFECT BLUE – As archived by the Internet Wayback machine, with stills, production notes, and a Kon interview

IMDB LINK: Perfect Blue (1997)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Perfect Blue (movie) – Anime News Network – Deep details, including the most complete cast and crew list and worldwide home video releases

Perfect Blue | Satoshi Kon wikiPerfect Blue entry at the Satoshi Kon Wiki fansite

Midnight Eye Interview: Satoshi Kon – 2002 interview concerning the director’s work until that point: Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress

A look at the “psycho suspense” film Perfect Blue – Profile of Kon written by Andre Osamond for “Animerica” before Perfect Blue had a wide release

Perfect Blue – Movie Review – Video review by YouTuber Chris Stuckman

Why Perfect Blue is Terrifying – An intriguing analysis of the film from a YouTuber

DVD INFO: Perfect Blue is not as easily available on home video as a film of its stature should be. The “enhanced” 2000 Manga DVD (buy), which was state-of-the-art at the time, just recently went out of print. It presented an acceptable but non-anamorphic image and can be viewed in the original Japanese with subtitles or dubbed into English. Extra features are found in a section labled “Mina’s Room” and include behind-the-scenes footage of a trio singing the theme song and an English language version of the same; a slideshow of stills; and brief interviews with the main English and Japanese voice actors and Satoshi Kon. It also links to websites that are now dead.

The film was released on Blu-ray (buy) and DVD in Region B in 2013, courtesy of Digital Classics. Another well-reviewed Blu-ray, from UKs Anime Ltd., is listed as out-of-print.

Perfect Blue is not currently available streaming or on-demand.

(This movie was nominated for review by “Wormhead.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

4 thoughts on “298. PERFECT BLUE (1997)”

  1. I’m a bit surprised at the idea of the premise being considered ‘archetypal’. Maybe in a very general sense, but it’s a very specific Japanese cultural commentary. The selling of people as fictions, well, we see that in the West too, but it’s arguably bigger (and more problematic) in Japan then anywhere else.

    Satoshi Kon’s later TV series Paranoia Agent would continue much of the same themes but on a wider scale, criticizing all of Japanese society at once.

    While I’m here, I should say that some people would disagree on the ending being uplifting due to some very strange details about it, but nobody’s really sure what they mean.

    In any case, I love this movie <3

    1. Indeed, though it seems to have just been an oversight on their part. However, there is still another hint that something is off about the ending that is in both versions, it’s just more subtle.

  2. I described the premise as “archetypal” because, even though it deals with aspects of Japanese culture, it also ressonates with universal themes, e.g. growth, change, fame, identity struggle, etc.

    The ending is ultimately debatable, but I think the positive interpretation is more thematically fiiting with the overall narrative arc.

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