Oh boy, we’re continuing Noirvember with something very special…to me at least…Because I still remember that day back in, I’d say sometime in 2005. I walked into Cash Converters, scanned through the DVDs, and here it was. I knew nothing about this film at the time, other than it looked like everything you would expect from a non-mecha anime – a sweet, smiling face covering the box’s foreground with the underlying darkness right in front of it (i.e. smiling girl in foreground stabbing something or somebody in murderous rage). It was the first anime I ever bought on DVD, and hence a personal pandora’s box was opened and I have been travelling through that rabbit hole ever since…and may the Alice In Wonderland and Matrix references continue throughout this review…or not. This is Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.
Set in what was modern day Tokyo, Japan (around 1997/1998, even though the film was made in 1996), our story revolves around Mima Kirigoe, a member of a mildly-successful J-Pop group called CHAM!. In the opening scenes we go back and forth between the two sides of Mima – her as a regular person buying groceries, and her as the Pop singer performing to a few hundred people (mostly men) on the rooftop of a multi-storey complex (Because sometimes in Tokyo, ‘The Park’ is on a rooftop). Mima performs her last concert as part of the group, with aspirations of becoming a full time actress (as being a pop singer was starting to affect her negatively) – to the mixed thoughts and feelings of both casual fans…and the not-so casual. She soon gets back to her apartment, puts away everything to do with her former life, and starts to work as an actress more regularly. However, things start to get creepy when she finds out that there is an online diary called “Mima’s Room”, which would be seen as a blog today…The diary entries, to Mima’s surprise and horror, were frighteningly accurate. How did it know that she bought cow’s milk and fish food? Which then brings up the question of whether Mima is in danger, as people who “taint” her innocent pop idol legacy seem to be getting in harm or trouble.
Now to decipher what’s real and what isn’t about the details:
The art style and animation are excellent, with character designs done by Hisashi Eguchi (who also designed the characters in Roujin Z), which are anime in style, yet realistic and quite detailed in anatomy and colour. The backgrounds would also be seen as within the confines of real settings, and then there are the scenes in which Mima appears to somehow hallucinate, which is where (some) of the horror takes place. Some of the designs however are a little less realistic, in particular Mamoru Uchida. The colours are well presented, with the emphasis on stronger hues to bring out the fantastical nature of some scenes. The animation, along with its creative use of cinematography is also a real treat to the eyes in terms of realism, cine-magic and storytelling.
The music by Masahiro Ikumi and the film’s voice acting are very good, with the soundtrack ranging from happy-clappy J-Pop to something straight out of Silent Hill. While the J-Pop music would have been a product of its time, the Silent-Hill-eque scores still hold up today in terms of their unsettling tone. The voice acting is strong, even in the english voiceover – every voice suited their design well.
The Characters, Story and themes are what keep people coming back to this film, because it is a very multi-layered journey with us asking what is real and what isn’t. At the same time, the film’s themes are probably more important now than ever. What started off as a niche activity in the film has now become a prominent part of modern society; The internet, blogging, social media…online stalking. While stalking has always (sadly) been around, it has become a more spoken-about problem today. If you know anybody who has had their photos and information used for cat fishing and fake accounts, this is a film that could be seen as covering it before it became a big deal. We also see themes of real self vs avatar, as Mina pretty much battles with her perceived self (who is more like a demon of negativity dressed in her Pop Idol garments, telling her that she made the wrong choice, and is now washed up at 21) and has to fight her in order to come-of-age, as we see her for who she is before she even enters these battles for her mind and sanity. But there are people around her who are only interested in her Pop Idol-Persona. Happy, bubbly, can sing, can dance, all day every day, and forever young. Among them include Mamoru Uchida, an obsessed fan who would be best described as a combination of “The Otaku Killer” Tsutomu Miyazaki, “The Bjork Stalker” Richardo Ramirez, Mark David Chapman (the man who shot John Lennon) and Michael Myers (Halloween). A truly unnerving combination. Despite being an evident celebrity at one point, I really like how down to earth Mima is and how, despite becoming an actress, is very much a normal person who is understandably alarmed by what’s happening around her. Her real life is what we, as an audience, are drawn towards. Which makes it all the more scary when others only embrace this “Facebook Life” version of her. At times, there is a real blurring of lines when Mima is acting – as she plays a character in a TV show who has Multiple Personality Disorder, which can really throw us into a spiral of wondering what’s to be embraced.
Would I recommend Perfect Blue? If you’re old enough to watch it, absolutely! It’s one of the most watchable anime out there in terms of what you can find that is new every time. It’s cleverly written, and it pretty much gets scarier as the years go by, and is more relevant in today’s world than it was in its day. There is a slight prophecy element in how technology, online personalities and stalking have more or less caught up with what the film did here (Making this ahead of its time). And at 80 minutes long, we receive a lot more information that we expect for the playtime. It is a must-watch for anime fans, and an excellent film all-round.
Art style: *****
Voice Acting: ****1/2 (Japanese) **** (English)