director Satoshi Kon
Released in 1997 as a direct-to-video anime, Satoshi Kon’s first feature film, Perfect Blue rises above the cheaper aspects of its production and delivers a complex, adult, head-trippy thriller.
I read good things about Perfect Blue when it was released here in the States and I recall hearing good things about each of Kon’s ensuing films Millennium Actress (2001), Tokyo Godfathers (2003) but it wasn’t until Paprika (2006) that I ended up seeing any of them. I didn’t get around to catching up on the other films in part because I figured I might want to watch them with my kids (Paprika was more kid-friendly), but my kids were young and actually Perfect Blue is quite adult.
The animation quality is off-puttingly cheap, that limited animation style of low-budget stuff, not anywhere to compare with the likes of Hayao Miyazaki. But as the story of the young pop star turned serious actress starts building, the animation quality either improves or fades out of focus. The somewhat Hitchcockian narrative, deeply psychological, digs in and transcends the limited style.
When Mima leaves her pop group for an acting career, it’s not clear if it’s what she wanted or what her management wanted, but going from squeaky-clean idol to increasingly lurid and sexual performances, someone in particular is disgusted by the change. Her fan base turns against her, and people in and around her career and change start being murdered in brutal ways. As the story unfolds, the twisting of portrayal and reality becomes more and more confused. Is all this going on in Mima’s mind?
Also interestingly, as it comes from the late 1990’s, the film introduces the internet and websites as loci of communication, commiseration and stalking. At points, this seems slightly funny, but that is a modern day context.
I did watch this with my kids, and I have to say even at ages 11 and 14, this was still pretty mature content. A rape scene that Mima shoots as part of one of her roles is disturbing and complex, melting between images of actual rape contrasted with the mundanity of acting work.
Perfect Blue is an intelligent and well-crafted thriller. A great start to Satoshi Kon’s sadly brief career.