REVIEW: Perfect Blue (パーフェクトブル)
Produced by: Hiroaki Inoue
Written by: Sadayuki Murai (screenplay)
Edited by: Harutoshi Ogata
Cinematography by: Hisao Shirai
Music by: Masahiro Ikumi
Starring (Manga Entertainment English voice cast): Bridget Hoffman, Wendee Lee, Barry Stigler, Lia Sargent, Steve Bulen, Jamieson Price, Frank Buck, Steven Blum
Based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
Review contains moderate plot points which may be considered spoilers, but are included for the sake of analysis. No plot twists or revelations are exposed, however.
Yes, I’m reviewing another anime film, this time a scary movie for Halloween! As previously noted in my review of Macross II, I was never really a fan of anime outside of the mainstream Studio Ghibli fare, but, thanks to the suggestion of my friend, Matt, I ended up going outside my comfort zone and wound up mostly enjoying what I saw with that quasi-film (assembled from a TV miniseries). I’m really going to have to start trusting my friend a bit more with his suggestions, though, ‘cause his latest suggestion (he clarified that this was not necessarily a recommendation, due to the contents of the film he suggested, so I guess I’ll honor his wording) was actually his best one yet. Yes, far better than K-PAX.
More of a suspense/psychological thriller film than a horror film, Perfect Blue is still a fairly chilling and horrific portrayal of the cost of fame upon the famous, those who work to guide the image and careers of the famous, and those who obsess with the famous from a distance (i.e., the fans).
Mima Kirigoe is one of a trio of singers in a cutesy J-pop girl group called CHAM! The film opens as CHAM! is performing before an adoring audience. However, their beloved Mima has made plans to move on into a new career as an actress, a surprise which she almost apologetically announces just before her final song performance with the group. Her fans call out to her, begging her not to leave them, but she’s already made up her mind and is determined to move on into what she feels is a more serious direction now that she’s grown older.
Mima’s transition starts off slowly, at first only receiving a single line in a police procedural, but Mima’s determined to make the most of it, and she’s willing to do anything to reinvent her image and move away from the bubbly pop star persona. But some of her fans haven’t necessarily been taken by her perceived abandonment of them, and one in particular has taken their fandom to a new level, writing online diary entries in Mima’s voice, which Mima is at first amused by… until they become disturbingly specific and accurate to real life. Worse, the people around her are getting harmed and even killed, with all signs suggesting that a fan of hers has taken their obsession too far.
As she continues to feel pressure by the entertainment industry to continue pushing her image in bold but often controversial new directions. Mima’s increased sexualization throughout the film does not sit right with many of the fans who loved her as a chaste-acting yet miniskirt-wearing pop starlet. Her agent, Rumi, rejects an offer for Mima to be cast in a role that would have her play the role of a stripper who is brutally raped on screen, but Mima insists that this is the best course of action if she’s going to be taken seriously as an actress.
Despite knowing it to be an act, Mima finds that she is still strongly affected by the experience, as the male filmmakers behind the camera take an almost disturbing level of ambivalence or enjoyment out of the subject matter they are filming, and her willingness to take off her clothes, even in serious roles, proves to be a gateway to her accepting far more risqué work if she believes it will help solidify her new image as a mature performer. Mima, however, begins to wonder if she’s losing sight of who she really is by substituting it for yet another false identity. As the threats and incidents around her rise in number, Mima soon begins to feel as though she is losing a grip on reality and begins to see a taunting image of her former pop idol self, showing up at the worst possible times, telling her that she never should have left CHAM!, which also happens to have also been doing much better on the charts than when she was still with them.
The film is edited in a way that increasingly and more ambiguously calls into question the reality of what the characters are seeing and even what we are seeing. There are times when the film cuts to the obsessed fan who writes the “Mima’s Room” online diary, who himself is shown to be delusional and believing himself to be a protector of the pop idol’s image and integrity – he simply cannot accept this reinvention and has convinced himself that the new Mima is an imposter. Naturally, he is the film’s primary suspect in the killings, and he is essentially a representation of just how far some fans go in deluding themselves into believing they have a personal connection with entertainers. Some of the moments in the film, however, seem to have his reality and her reality overlap. The audience and characters never really seem to know where the reality lies as a result until the film’s bizarre climax – and even then…
Perfect Blue, though very dark, was still entertaining on some level, as it has a very intriguing story, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock if he somehow did modern anime films – it even has one of his trademark women in distress in Mima. (This was apparently a sentiment Roger Corman shared, as indicated by the film’s American poster.) The film’s toying with reality is at first a bit confusing, but by the film’s climax, when the secrets have all been revealed, it all seems very clear in retrospect and you will be thankful for having paid attention and held on by the end. I imagine that repeat viewings will only reveal more about the use of the plot devices and story editing techniques that are used in the film.
The story seems all the more relevant now than it perhaps was in 1997 – at least in the US – now that celebrities are using social media more and more to not only connect with and advertise to their fans (or at least seem to be by using their PR proxies), but supposedly also broadcast their true personalities to the world. Perfect Blue was prescient enough to include an online diary as a plot device. Remember, when Twitter began to require verifications ‘cause of all the fake celebrity accounts? It was to avoid imposters posing as celebrities and taking over their identities.
It’s a wonder that Hollywood filmmakers haven’t eyed this story yet for a Western adaptation that relates a bit more to stars like Miley Cyrus or, for an older but more relevant, popular comparison, Marilyn Monroe, who underwent an industry-controlled makeover from cute brunette to bombshell blonde prior to gaining fame primarily for her looks, rather than her acting skills. Even more recently, I’ve even read comments on sites from some filmgoers who saw Alfonso Cuarón’s phenomenal Gravity but had a hard time accepting romcom starlet Sandra Bullock as an astronaut based solely on previous work – despite Bullock’s fantastic performance that is far more authentic than even her Oscar-winning performance in The Blind Side. In a way, the film is more aptly seen not just as an allegory about the horrors of fame, but rather the challenges that female celebrities, especially, face when struggling to be taken more seriously as artists. Sometimes the audience, the industry, and the artist are just incompatible.
Though originally intended to be a live action adaptation of the novel, the animation medium allows for it to integrate the more surreal aspects of the story into the more normal visuals seamlessly, and the animation studio, Madhouse, produces solid artwork and expressive character designs. The character portrayals are far more grounded in reality than one would expect, as well. Mima is an engaging protagonist – vulnerable and sweet, but never cloying. Despite the nudity, director Satoshi Kon and his animators treat her character with the utmost respect, never fetishizing her, even during the more salacious moments, which are clearly meant to disturb, not arouse. The Manga Entertainment English dubbing is also nicely performed, if you don’t care for subtitles. (I don’t mind them, but I had already started the film and didn’t feel like changing settings.)
Perfect Blue was a solid suggestion from my friend, and while he seemed to have his reservations in calling it a recommendation, I’m more than happy to recommend it to those of you who would overlook the film just because it’s an anime.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5