The Geisha of Gore Presents:
PERFECT BLUE (1997)
Review by Colleen Wanglund
Directed by Satoshi Kon and written by Sadayuki Murai, PERFECT BLUE (1997) is a Japanese adult anime feature film. It is a psychological thriller/horror film based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. The film was originally meant to be a direct-to-video live action film, but after an earthquake damaged the movie studio in 1995, the budget was cut and production was changed to an animated film. PERFECT BLUE’s international success is largely credited to manga artist and director Katsuhiro Otomo, who helped the film get distribution overseas, and screenings at various film festivals. Otomo is the creator of the manga AKIRA, as well as the director of its 1988 animated film adaptation. The movie was director Kon’s first feature film and the only film he made which he did not write the screenplay for.
PERFECT BLUE opens with a concert by CHAM!, a successful J-pop girl group. After the show, Mima (Junko Iwao/Ruby Marlowe) announces that she is leaving the group to pursue a career in acting. One of her managers encourages this move, while her other manager, Rumi (Rica Matsumoto/Wendee Lee), is not happy about Mima’s career change. Rumi was herself a former pop idol. Some of CHAM! and Mima’s fans are also not happy about the move to acting, including an apparent stalker called Me-Mania (Masaaki Okura/Bob Marx). Mima soon discovers a website called “Mima’s Room” which turns out to be a blog supposedly written by Mima herself, documenting her daily life. The young woman is disturbed by the site, but Rumi assures her it is no big deal and to ignore it.
Mima has gotten a small part on a television drama called Double Bind, as the sister of a murder victim. The producers decide to give her a larger role, and she now plays a rape victim. Rumi tries to talk Mima out of the role, as she feels it will harm her reputation among her fans. As the rape scene is filmed, Mima is seriously shaken up, as is Rumi who leaves the studio in tears. In fact, Mima is so traumatized by the scene that she begins to have trouble separating fantasy from reality. Mima’s mental problems worsen after both the producer and writer of Double Bind are found murdered, and she begins to wonder if she committed the crimes.
Meanwhile the stalker Me-Mania has been visiting the show’s set and it is apparent that his obsession with the young actress/pop star is increasing. He has begun receiving emails from Mima through the “Mima’s Room” website, which we learn he runs. It is these emails, as well as his stalking activities, that enables him to write the detailed blog posts as Mima. It is at this point that the film takes a drastic turn. Scenes jump around between reality, hallucinations, and the fantasy world of the television show, and now the viewer is left wondering what is really going on. Things get even more confusing when Mima’s other manager turns up dead, as does her stalker, Me-Mania. Is Mima really suffering a mental breakdown or split personality? Has she lost her mind due to the rape scene she filmed? Was her stalker to blame and trying to frame Mima out of revenge? Oh my God, I’m so confused!! But in a good way.
While there are a few spots in PERFECT BLUE that don’t necessarily hold up well with time, overall it is a great film and one of my favorites. The story is solid and the confusion of the second half of the film heightens the satisfaction of an ending that no one sees coming. And it’s a doozy of an ending. The film is at times frenetic, yet straightforward, in its telling, even when it becomes difficult to distinguish between reality, television, and possible hallucinations on the part of Mima.
One thing to understand when watching PERFECT BLUE is the relationship between J-pop idols and their fans. Stars are heavily managed, and stories about their personal lives are highly controlled in Japan. In the eyes of the fans, these idols never grow old and any relationships they have (usually manufactured ones with other pop idols) are chaste. The stars who don’t stick to the script can have their lives and reputations ruined. For Mima to take the role in a television show depicting such a graphic rape scene, and then posing nude for a magazine in an effort to completely break away from her pop idol status, could cause irreparable damage and end her fledgling acting career before it even starts. Incidentally, the nudity in PERFECT BLUE is tastefully done. The animation is realistic, as opposed to many of the exaggerated female anime characters with tiny waists and too-large boobs.
Another aspect of the story is that Mima’s supposed mental breakdown parallels her wish to be something more than just a female pop idol. Mima’s identity is controlled by those around her—managers, other members of the group, and her fans. No one wants to see that identity change, except Mima. She wants to break away from the chaste young woman that all female pop stars are supposed to be, and become her own woman. Mima wishes to be viewed as an adult, as an independent woman, and as a serious actress. Her stalker and other obsessed and angry fans threaten to ruin her image of herself. And her manager Rumi isn’t helping matters by trying to talk Mima out of her decision to leave the pop idol image behind. Mima’s identity literally hangs in the balance. The viewer’s confusion over who Mima is, mirrors Mima’s own confusion over her identity.
PERFECT BLUE also makes a statement about consumerism in the modern world. People love their idols and will do anything to keep them. The management of these J-pop idols is strictly controlled and the goal is to sell—records, posters, anything attached to these stars. It all comes down to money and Mima was potentially worth more as a pop idol than as an actress. The film also explores the dark side of fame, where anyone in the spotlight can be subjected to stalkers and other weirdos, making their lives hell. It is this and Mima’s possible break with reality that makes PERFECT BLUE such a disturbing and scary film.
The excellent use of tension, the pace of the story, and the very humanness of the characters make for a suspenseful and entertaining film. It was originally released in the United States on DVD in 1999, in both its unrated and rated-R versions, and is available with both dubbing and in Japanese with English subtitles. The soundtrack is just okay, but it doesn’t take anything away from the film. PERFECT BLUE is a great film to start with if you’ve never seen an adult animated film from Japan (anything by Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t count, as great as his films are) or if you’re a fan of serious psychological thrillers.
© Copyright 2017 by Colleen Wanglund