(A.k.a. PAFEKUTO BURU [original title])
Twenty years after its initial release, Satoshi Kon's celebrated anime-horror gets a much-deserved theatrical re-release this Halloween, courtesy of our friends at National Amusements and Anime Ltd.
Mima (voiced by prolific Japanese TV actress Junko Iwao) is a singer with the popular pop trio CHAM. We learn from an early telephone conversation with her mother that singing is something Mima has wanted to do since she was a child. And now, the demure young woman is incredibly successful at it.
However, her manager Tadokoro (Shinpachi Tsuji) sees a move into acting as a more lucrative career option. Mousy Mima is easily led, despite reservations voiced by her faithful assistant Rumi (Rica Matsumoto). So when Tadokoro lands Mima a minor role in violent TV cop show "Double Bind", she goes along with his wishes and prepares to announce her retirement from pop music at that afternoon's open air gig.
Come 3pm, Mima takes to the stage with her two co-singers for one final concert. The rumour of her imminent departure from the group is already rife amongst the gossiping audience. As the group prepare to sing the last song of their set, an altercation between odd-looking mega-fan Me-Mania (Masaaki Okura) and a gang of young hoodlums in the crowd almost threatens to eclipse Mima's big announcement. The commotion soon quashed, Mima takes to the mic and confirms everyone's fears: she's turning her back on the pop world and moving into acting. The crowd are less than ecstatic with this news.
That evening, Mima settles into her modest apartment to read her latest batch of fan mail. She's intrigued by one anonymous letter which makes reference to "Mima's Room".
The following day is Mima's first day on the set of the TV show. She mentions the previous evening's note to Rumi, who explains it's referring to a website dedicated to the former popstar, entitled "Mima's Room". That evening, Mima sits in front of her computer and finds the site in question. What at first seems like flattery soon gets under her skin, as she realises that the person writing a blog in the style of Mima knows far too much about her private life for comfort.
Is she being stalked? That would explain the creepy website; a facsimile she receives branding her as a "traitor"; the on-set mishap which results in Tadokoro getting injured, and which looks to have been an instance of prop sabotage with Mima as the intended victim; her repeated fleeting sightings of ill-tempered loner Me-Mania ...
Events spiral further out of control when Mima is offered a larger role in "Double Bind": that of a rape victim. Rumi advises against accepting the part, but Mima goes ahead and takes it - the performance taking its toll on her mentally. This is most explicitly felt when Mima begins to see an alter-ego of herself, an outwardly happy soul who never gave up her singing career.
As the bodies on the TV set begin to mount up and Mima's distinction between fiction and reality grows increasingly blurred, will she be able to save her life - and sanity - while discovering who's behind the all-too-real murders?
Satoshi Kon began his career as a Manga artist, before making the transition into TV animation and screenwriting in his twenties. PERFECT BLUE made for an auspicious directorial feature debut in 1997 (prior to this he'd co-directed a trio of TV shows with Katsuhiro Otomo). By the time of his untimely death at the age of 46 in 2010, Kon had realised an impressive resume as a director, with subsequent works including PAPRIKA, TOKYO GODFATHERS and MILLENNIUM ACTRESS.
Arguably, however, PERFECT BLUE - adapted for the screen by Sadayuki Murai from Yoshikazu Takeuchi's 1991 novel "Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis" - is the director's most fondly thought-of flick. And with good reason.
For one, this is a perfect introduction for newcomers, stylistically, to anime. The storytelling, in the first act at least, is more sedate than your typical anime offering. Each composition is reserved and cinematic, creating a world that seems so realistic that we soon forget it's been illustrated. There's a focus on characters and exposition, also unusual for the genre, which lend further weight to this feeling as close to a live-action film as anime allows (indeed, Toshiki Sato's live-action version PERFECT BLUE: YUME NARA SAMETE followed in 2002 - albeit it was met with considerably less praise).
There's a very obvious nod to Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA about 22 minutes into proceedings. And that's not the only similarities to the Maestro's works either: Mima's predicament at times brings to mind the relationship between Betty and her stalker in OPERA, while the stylised presentation of the "victims" in the TV show here echo how Argento had his victims decorously displayed in TENEBRAE.
The animation is rather flat and crude during the film's first half; it hardly matters as it's the intriguing plot advancements and deft application of subtly mounting tension that keep the viewer distracted. Come the delirium of the latter half, the film is a decidedly more lurid affair.
As intoxicating as the claustrophobia-inducing sense of paranoia becomes, and as titillating as the steadily mounting violence can be, what really thrills is PERFECT BLUE's masterful control of its head-spinning plot, and in particular its conveyance of several complex themes including identity, the soul-sucking nature of the media industry, the thin line between madness and reality, and the illusion of celebrity.
"Who am I?" Mima ponders to herself as she prepares to get into character during her first day on set. It's a telling moment, as is the fact that the show she's appearing in centres on a mystery killer who skins their victims as groundwork for some transformation they have planned - a la the Buffalo Bill character in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Later into proceedings, much after we've been introduced to an alter-ego who may or may not exist (Kon's clever direction soon has us wondering which Mima we're watching at any given time), there's a great moment where Mima is innocently dismissed by a member of the public as being a mere lookalike of herself. Again, it's a subtle but delicious comment on the distinction between person and character.
In this regard, and with jabs against the industry coming thick and fast (Tadokoro's willingness to exploit Mima over respecting what's best for her sanity; a gathering of kids bemoaning that another group playing during the opening concert aren't as good live as they are on television), parallels can also be made between PERFECT BLUE and David Lynch's equally surreal Hollywood-fucker MULHOLLAND DRIVE.
Repeat viewings reward with fresh insights, scratching the surface and offering something new each time. So, while you may not make sense of everything the first time you watch it, PERFECT BLUE will suck you in and beg you to revisit it time and again. Just like all great films do.
We were sent an online Vimeo link for review purposes. Based on this presentation, the film being screened will be the full version -- complete with all of its sex and violence intact (simulated rape, attempted rape, bloody slashings, full-frontal nudity etc). The widescreen picture looks very healthy and clean, vibrant and colourful. Japanese audio is consistent and clear throughout; well-written English subtitles are easy to make out at all times.
If you get a chance to view PERFECT BLUE on the big screen, seize that opportunity. Check online for venues hosting the film perhaps, and prey that any interest in this classic movie's twentieth anniversary prompts another special edition release. It's a film that can be watched time and again, revealing new details to its viewer with each sitting.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Anime Limited|