Perfect Blue (1997)

There are plenty of iconic anime films that have been released throughout the years. From the fantasy worlds created by visionary Hayao Miyazaki to Mamoru Hosoda’s brilliant coming-of-age stories, anime has always been an excellent medium within film for storytelling. One such pioneer of the medium was the late, great Satoshi Kon whose directorial debut, Perfect Blue was released 25 years ago this year. The film showed that anime is not just for children and made way for anime content that was catered for adults thanks to its gruesome violence, explicit nudity and mature themes. Perfect Blue follows Mima, a young woman wanting to make the transition from pop idol to mature actress. As she begins to take on more adult roles and gives her public image a makeover, Mima’s life starts to unravel as she deals with a stalker who is hellbent on ensuring that she maintains an innocent image.

The film was directed by Satoshi Kon and written by Sadayuki Murai who based the screenplay on Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Satoshi Kon directed four films before his death in 2010 with Perfect Blue marking his debut and what a debut it is. The film is a complex look into the psyche of protagonist Mima as she begins to lose grip on reality as an imposter threatens to steal her identity. Kon’s unflinching approach has made Perfect Blue a staple, not only in animation, but in the psychological thriller genre as well. It is a visceral look into societal expectations placed on women and how that pressure to conform can have tragic consequences. Murai’s script is fast-paced while also providing plenty of scope for various factors to mesh and contribute to Mima’s eventual mental health deterioration. Kon’s gritty vision helps to list Murai’s words off the page, resulting in a brilliant film that feels both of its time and deeply relevant simultaneously.

Perfect Blue can be defined as a character study into its protagonist, Mima. Junko Iwao voices Mima and does a brilliant job of conveying the trauma and horror that the character has to endure throughout the film. Mima starts the film with a higher pitched tone to convey her innocent image that coincides with her pop idol career, but as the film goes on, her tone and attitude becomes more authentic and real as her life spirals downwards. Iwao perfectly captures the wide spectrum of emotions that Mima feels throughout. Mima is such an intriguing character and Iwao contributes to this. The idea of the pop idol and image is one that is especially monitored in Japan moreso than the majority of countries and seeing the extent of obsession for the fame and attention that Mima has makes for truly frightening viewing.

As with any film, the supporting characters are equally important. In particular, Rica Matsumoto’s contribution as Mima’s agent, Rumi, is brilliant. Rumi is a former pop idol herself and her obsession with Mima and her career shows how she longs for the life that Mima has, but isn’t willing to move on with her own life. Matsumoto’s performance is tinged with hints of longing and sadness throughout as Rumi clearly disapproves of the direction that Mima’s life is going in.

One of the best elements in the film is the music composed by Masahiro Ikumi which elevates the emotions felt by Mima throughout. As Mima begins to become disconnected and suffer from dissociative identity disorder just as her character does on the TV show she is in, the music begins to reflect this as the tracks become more chaotic. The track “Virtua Mima (Voice)” is especially haunting and its repetition drums in the confusion and terror that Mima is feeling. It’s a soundtrack that is essential to the overall film and helps to make the film as iconic as it is.

What makes Perfect Blue so gripping from start to finish is the editing by Harutoshi Ogata. Ogata does a fantastic job with the editing as he frames the film like a live-action psychological thriller featuring quick cuts to highlight the protagonist’s confusion and disconnection from reality. There are also longer scenes that make for uncomfortable viewing such as the scenes in which Mima is filming a scene for a television show in which she is victim of a sexual assault as well as the iconic chase scene that comes later on. The latter example has become synonymous with anime horror and it’s easy to see why. Ogata’s editing of the chase scene is one of the most eerie and frightening scenes without containing a huge amount of violence when compared with the rest of the film.

Perfect Blue has garnered a reputation over the years due to its explicit content and exploration into mature themes, while still remaining a gripping watch that boasts brilliant storytelling. Kon may have only made four films, but each one shows his immense talent as a filmmaker and Perfect Blue is a fearless glimpse into fame and the dangers of being a familiar face among a public that can easily hide. Despite the dated technology used in the film, Perfect Blue feels even more relevant now as social media has become even more commonplace. Not for the faint of heart, Perfect Blue should be on every film lover’s “to watch” list if they have not already watched it before.

What did you think of Perfect Blue? Let me know in the comments below!

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