Perfect Blue (1997) Review: Dark Anime for Adults
While it may be difficult to fathom there is more than one famous anime director in the world (Miyazaki *cough*), Satoshi Kon is one of them. Sadly, pancreatic cancer took his life in 2010, but he left us with a legacy of films to explore. He was inspired to become an animator in his early school days thanks to titles like Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) and Space Battleship Yamato (1974). He worked on manga, scripts and project supervising before starting work as an animator. Perfect Blue was his directorial debut, and what a fantastic head start it is. The film was received well by critics, in the US and Japan alike. It won awards at the 1997 Fantasia Festival in Montreal, and Fantasporto Film Festival in Portugal. Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam even included it in his list of top 50 animated films. As much as I would love to praise this film into the ground, the movie is not for everyone as it deals with serious themes and disturbing imagery.
The last time I saw an anime film that made me go ‘What the hell was that?’ it was The Adolecense of Utena (2000). Confusing, thought provoking and intriguing, Perfect Blue leaves a similar impression. The story was based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, and was adapted for film by Sadayuki Murai (the only time when Kon hasn’t written a screenplay for his films). It starts off simple enough: singer Mima Kirigoe decides to become an actress at the cost of leaving her pop-group, CHAM!. A handful of fans are outraged by this decision, and start to cause problems for Mima. Aside from Mima, two other characters are given their chance in the spotlight. All of them are interesting and human… arguably too human! It doesn’t take long to get attached to the hard working heroine. We feel her fears and doubts as she explores her new reality.
The tension of the film gradually builds as we are given insight into Mima’s day-to-day routine, and the challenges she faces making the transition from singer to actress. It is straight forward, but it is executed beautifully. Blood, gore, fear and mood escalates – much like Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds (1963), and by the end the movie is near incomprehensible. Satoshi Kon is great at confusing the viewer. As Mima’s stress becomes unmanageable, it becomes difficult to distinguish between dreams, hallucinations, movie shoots and reality. The final moments, much like Memento (2000) hit you like a bus with a surprised “Is that seriously the end?”. I had to personally investigate online forums to decipher the ending, but if you love problem solving then perhaps you will be one to figure it out upon a re-watch. The strangeness and detachment of the screenplay could be seen as both a flaw and a quality in this respect.
The animation is a class of its own- you will see no big, googly anime eyes here. Satoshi Kon’s style is very true to real life without making it too realistic. There are fat, skinny, young, old people – with a range of body structures and facial features. I was surprised that even though Satoshi Kon amazingly captures the beautiful, downright ugly and surprisingly, the averages in between I enjoyed watching the large variety of faces. I am usually the type to dismiss too-realistic-looking anime. They have a unique charm that is difficult to put into words. The colors are a tad dull, reminding us that it is an 1997 production, but the animation itself is wonderful. Costumes, clothes and backgrounds are nicely detailed (no Miyazaki wow-factor but still good), and the amount of fluid, realistic movement is a sight to behold. The violent and chase scenes make it obvious the animators have a really clear sense of how to translate weight and gravity in a 2D animation space. The full frontal nudity in this film is one of the most tasteful and realistic portrayals of the female body – no anorexic waists or breast implants.
The soundtrack isn’t something I would track down and buy, or even want to listen to on its own. While it isn’t bad, for most part it blends into the background. The sombre melodies are haunting and add to the atmosphere, acheiving a similar feat to Serial Experiments Lain (1998). The Opening song at the start of the movie is oh, so nineties, and isn’t too memorable or catchy. The english dub is average. Bridget Hoffman was the wrong choice for Mima as her voice is too high to the point where Mima doesn’t sound as innocent anymore – it’s just annoying. The rest of the cast’s voices fit the characters, but the acting isn’t as lively or natural-sounding as it could be. The Japanese actresses are great. Junko Iwao voices Mima perfectly, balancing innocence and terror at the right moments. Masaaki Okura as Me-Mania sounds oddly flat, but in a disturbing sort of way. It is as though they were trying to exaggerate what a detached shut-in the character was by emphasizing through vocal tone.
Perfect Blue is a brilliant gateway-title into anime for more serious viewers, a must-see title for thriller fans. Highly recommended for those who want to get their thinking caps on, or even if you have your friends around for a horror/thriller night! As much as I would love to label it a ‘must see for anime fans’, because of the disturbing scenes in it, it doesn’t appeal to everyone.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Great review, will have to get stuck into so Satoshi Kon!
Yes, please do! and thank you
Perfect Blue is, in summation, an Anime’ film that quite simply is not like anything else out there. Although it does end on a note of optimism that mostly (and carefully) explains everything, I just dismiss that as hardly anything hurtful from the mind-f**k experience. Lastly, the title is at least partially accurate with regard to its content: it’s perfect.
I started watching this but couldn’t find myself sticking with it all the way through, I might pick it up again.
It requires a bit of patience i think 🙂
I watched the whole film and I must admit I was a little surprised at how highly regarded it is. It was good but didn’t really have a lasting effect on me. That being said I’m not an anime expert so probably don’t appreciate a lot of the elements within it.
Instant classic. In my list of all time favorite animes.
Looks really interesting. I love the way Kon did Paranoia Agent, so I’m happy to see more from him
I’ve been introduced to Satoshi Kon by a friend and I loved Millennium Actress, enjoyed Tokyo Godfathers and admired Paprika. Great review! Can’t wait to check out Perfect Blue.
Thank you! I’ve still to see Tokyo Godfathers… 🙂
I truly appreciate Satoshi Kon’s works. This masterpiece is definitely a must-watch!
Personally I prefer things that have a hyper-realism. It shows the quality of the work and a grounding to reality on the author’s part.