Directed by: #SatoshiKon
Satoshi Kon’s hand-drawn masterpiece may have been made over 20-years ago, but Perfect Blue remains as relevant today as it undoubtedly was then. In fact, maybe even more so. Perfect Blue was prophetic in its vision of the role (indeed, the threat) the internet – which as bizarre as it may seem now, was still a relatively new and scary idea to many people – would impose upon the lives of celebrities. For in this age of information and entitlement, where everybody feels like they are owed access to their idols, nothing stays private for long.
With Perfect Blue being a Japanese-language animated movie, there are (for English speaking viewers, at least) two chief audio tracks to choose from: the original, spoken Japanese with English subtitles (subbed), or the English language version (dubbed). My review will relate chiefly to the subbed version, as this is the version I watched recently. Although I have seen both before and would like to add that the English dubbed version is also excellent, it’s just not my preference.
Mima Kirigoe (voiced by Junko Iwao) is a J-pop star; a member of the all-girl group CHAM. Mima decides, at the height of CHAM’s success, to pursue her dream of being an actress. But making it big doesn’t come easy, and Mima soon finds herself, reluctantly, agreeing to film a horrific rape scene for a TV series and posing naked for a photoshoot; stripping away the squeaky-clean, virginal facade of her past. Even then, this new-found fame comes at a cost: a letter bomb sent in the post, a fax (yes, that’s right, a fax) with the word “traitor” written all over it, an unsavoury fansite called “Mima’s Room” which seems to detail every aspect of her life and, ultimately, the brutal murder of several people close to her. And when the spirit of her past begins to haunt her every turn and mock her every decision, Mima’s sanity begins to unravel, until she can no longer tell the difference between reality and fiction.
Exploding onto the scene in 1997, Perfect Blue’s hyper-violent and hyper-sexualised themes and imagery shocked audiences around the world and introduced me (and I’m sure many others) to the idea that animated films weren’t just for children. That’s not to say it was the first animated film to feature sex or violence––far from it. Mamoru Oshii’s sci-fi classic, Ghost in the Shell, released 2-years prior and contained plenty of violent scenes. And let’s not forget Hideki Takayama’s deeply disturbing and highly polarising film, Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend, which features scenes of demonic rape and violence.
But I think what makes Perfect Blue so much more chilling, and so much more scary is its realistic grounding and its creepily accurate predictions on the more disturbing possibilities of the internet. The film was made as a critique of consumerism, and to reflect the growing concern amongst Japanese parents of the time that their children would grow up into a world of computer screens; controlled by technology. And now, in our age of almost complete internet reliance and of having information and the power to create and spread misinformation, at one’s fingertips, Perfect Blue has never seemed more relevant.
There are moments, visually, where Perfect Blue reveals its age. But neither the occasional flicker of animation jitter nor the sometimes rigid facial animation does anything to detract from the sheer beauty of the imagery, colours and detail found throughout the film’s many hand-drawn scenes.
Hisao Shirai (Director of Photography) starts by bathing Mima's popstar beginning in light and bright colours. The implication is clear: this is what Mima is familiar with, this is where Mima is comfortable and this is where Mima is safe. But, as she leaves her past behind, it's not long before the blue skies dissipate and give way to dark rain clouds and the artificial neon lights of the big city. Again, the implication is clear: the gloomy and rainy weather reflects Mima’s inner loneliness and misery, while the overly bright artificial lighting and blue hue herald the beginning of her descent into madness. In fact, so crucial and prevalent, is the film’s use of colour, that it’s possible to follow the story with this concept alone.
But what is a film without an atmospheric and memorable soundtrack? The answer is...not much. Believe me, I’ve seen a few. Fortunately, Masahiro Ikumi has us covered with his indispensable work here; creating music which not only compliments the look and feel of the film but also stands out as rich and layered listening in its own right.
So much thought, love, and attention to detail have gone into making Perfect Blue, from every possible aspect of it, that it's easy to see why it often makes the number one spot in a lot of 'best anime films of all time' lists. And while I’m not sure I fully agree with that – there’s a lot of competition to consider after all – this is damn fine film-making, and well-deserving of at least a top-five spot on anyone’s list. Perfect Blue is moody, dark, genuinely terrifying, and disturbingly pertinent for a 22-year old film. And for a film of its age to not only still be relevant, but actually more so than when it was made, is no small feat.