Watched via DVD
Upon our rewatch, Perfect Blue isn’t as confusing as I originally believed. Perfect Blue follows the career of a former pop idol as she transitions into a drama actress. A major theme of the movie is how the actress loses the innocence associated with her idol persona as she develops into a more mature personality to fit the roles that she is cast in. Through this metamorphosis of character, Mima is targeted by angry fans who feel betrayed by her becoming more “human”.
Perfect Blue’s major theme is identity, especially the question of who can influence how you define yourself. Throughout Mima’s transformation, she faces resistance to her new identity as an actress, both from her fans and from one of her managers. People all around Mima attempt to manipulate Mima’s identity and mode of self-expression, from her managers and her fans to even her new drama’s writer and a photographer. Mima faces pressure from all around, which causes her to have a crisis of identity. Plus, someone’s writing a blog of her life, and people connected to her are being murdered.
Just as in true Satoshi Kon style, this movie is rather disjointed and perplexing which heightens the anxiety associated with the main character’s life as well as enhancing horrific tone of the movie. This is one of those movies which is not appropriate to watch with your family. There are tons of violent scenes depicting people being harmed or murdered, as well as disturbing events, such as when Mima’s TV drama character is raped as part of a scene.
Even though this is definitely a mature film, I think all of the violence is necessary for the central plot, as is the length of the scene in which Mima pretends to be raped. Because this movie is essentially about Mima losing her grip on reality and slowly feeling more and more invaded, it’s necessary for the audience to fully understand her emotions and the extent to which everything happening to her is affecting her. As Whitney stated after it finished, this movie makes you uncomfortable, but I think it should. Like with the thematically-related Black Swan, Perfect Blue’s a case study of a performer losing her identity to job-related stress, and getting in the head of someone undergoing that kind of an experience shouldn’t be a pleasant time. This movie’s a great one, but it’s not one to watch if you need a pick-me-up on a bad day.
Perfect Blue takes place in various filming locations as well as places Mima frequents, such as her house, grocery store, and places of public transportation. The plot of the drama series she is working on is a crime show which is also set in the present day. Therefore the transitions from drama to real life are often seamless and destabilize what is real. This heightens the feeling that Mima has of being overwhelmed by what is going on. Often she awakens from an experience and it is not clear if she was dreaming, recalling what had happened, or blacking out from consciousness. Without Satoshi Kon’s signature directing style of transitioning back and forth between the two realms, this film would not have been the major suspense film that it was.
Though Mima’s real life and the drama she’s filming do overlap, the distinction between them is clear enough when Mima has a firm grasp on reality. The real difficulties with setting occur when Mima begins to see another Mima, her idol persona, following her around and fighting with her over the direction her life should take. After Mima recognizes this split, the difference between reality and Mima’s hallucinations blurs, which is when things begin to get weird in the film. Watching this as an adult with a couple English degrees to my name, I didn’t find it at all confusing, but I was thoroughly bewildered when I first watched this as a teenager. Regardless, this is the kind of narrative that seems to perfectly fit the world it’s set in. The life of a Japanese pop idol is like few other careers in the particular pressures it presents, and Perfect Blue captures all of the negatives that can crop up in that lifestyle.
Perfect Blue mainly focuses on Mima and her stalker who shows up frequently throughout the film in various roles. We also get glimpses of the two other members of her former idol group as well as her two managers. Everyone else seems to fade into a blur of various roles and even Mima can’t keep them straight, which is emphasized when she accidentally calls another lead actor by the character role’s name rather than her own. The movie breaks apart who Mima is as an individual person, as an employee, and then as a public figure. As Crystal states above, Mima’s character development, as well as the question of who has the right to determine her identity, are major themes to this film. Her managers and other co-workers are brought into the plot, but mostly as a tool to highlight the changes that Mima’s life is going through.
I strongly sympathize with Mima as a character. I know some people would blame her for not taking more control over her life, but I understand how she can feel buffeted by everyone around her and lose her sense of direction as a result. She feels incredibly realistic to me, which is a welcome contrast to so many anime characters who fit within standard archetypes and undergo standard character development that mostly consists of revealing some kind of standard tragic backstory. In comparison to them, Mima reflects the pressures of reality and reacts to them in a way that I would expect of a real person. Perhaps the film’s plot takes things to an unrealistic extreme, but Mima’s role within it all works perfectly for me.
Crystal is sooo right. I could probably name a dozen shoujo titles where a character is picked off the streets to become a model or actress and then basks in the glory of being naturally talented and successful. It’s so great to actually see a flawed character as she struggles with insecurities as well as timidly breaking into a new career that isn’t completely welcoming and has preconceived notions of her abilities.
I also appreciated the rest of the cast in this film. All of the businessmen act the way I expect them to, as do Mima’s managers when they’re discussing her career. Mima’s old idol friends both care about her and her difficult transition to a new career, but they’re also busy celebrating their own success. Most importantly, the creepy otaku are truly creepy otaku in the way that I’ve heard they are with pop idols and seiyuu. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a pop idol in Japan! However, I liked their portrayal in the film and the various factions shown within them, which both reflects what I know about them in real life and works within the plot to illustrate Mima’s struggles in finding success in her new career.
Enough about plot and characters, let’s get to what I live for, the animation! First of all, I love Satoshi Kon’s choice in visual styles. Perfect Blue has a wonderful realistic feel. The movie even juxtaposes its “real” style against regular “anime” styles by showing a billboard advertisement with a nondescript animation show on it, which heightens the believability of the movie as a depiction of the behind-the-scenes life of an actress. As for the animation quality, it is of course excellent. What I loved most was the feeling of overexposure which enhanced contrast while setting the tone of the movie as particularly “eerie.” The limited color palette and choice of camera angles emphasizes the violence of the action sequences.
Part of director Satoshi Kon’s appeal comes from his character designs, which reflect reality while still having recognizably iconic characters. Instead of having characters who barely look human at all from having huge bug eyes, Kon’s characters always look like they could have been modeled off of real actors. Though he chose to animate his works, I think this stylistic choice makes them feel like an alternate reality, which helps me sympathize with the characters and care more about their lives. Alongside this benefit of Perfect Blue, as Whitney mentioned, it’s extremely well animated and directed, with lighting and camera angles that all enhance the main themes. Satoshi Kon was one of the anime masters, and this film shows you exactly why.
Out of all of the Satoshi Kon movies, I feel that this one was by far easiest to understand. If you are planning on watching and collecting them all, watch this one first. It’ll help prepare you for the massive confusion that comes with his other films. Though I must say, being an adaptation from a novel, this movie feels rather isolated from the tone of his other films. Thematically it is still a wonderful representation of his work as well as just being brilliant anyways. This movie isn’t for everyone, and I probably wouldn’t show it to anyone who is bothered easily by violence or blood. I first found out about Perfect Blue from a trailer on one of my DVDs back from middle school, and I have to say, I was and still am not disappointed in this wonderful purchase.
Given the small amount of work Satoshi Kon was able to produce in his lifetime, I can’t really recommend any one of them as a good place to start watching them. Personally, I would have people start with Millennium Actress (my favorite), but Perfect Blue establishes his early skills as a director and pairs well with Paranoia Agent, his only TV anime. Like most of Kon’s works, Perfect Blue skillfully explores the boundaries between reality and an individual’s interpretation of reality. Moreover, it’s beautifully directed and animated. Really, I’m having a hard time coming up with anything negative to say about it, beyond the fact that it can be a bit much if you aren’t expecting it. In short, this is an anime masterpiece that everyone should watch, especially if they consider themselves an anime or film fan. While you’re at it, check out everything else Satoshi Kon directed. Only Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika are still easily available, but they’re all well worth the effort of tracking them down.
FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
FINAL SCORE: (10/10)