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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Classics Review: Perfect Blue (1997)

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue disorients you, surpassing your expectations for what an animated film can be as a vessel for themes and ideas through a complex narrative structure further strengthened by its moody atmosphere and animation. It’s a film that is always worth revisiting, and as hard as it can be to endure through moments of disturbing clarity, satire and commentary, it’s a film that is a necessary challenge in scratching the surface of fame, voyeurism, and an ever-growing battle with identity.

Perfect Blue follows Mima, a member of a J-Pop group that decides to leave her music career behind and become a fully-fledged actress. Met with criticism and doubts from fans and her manager, Mima finds herself grappling with her identity and ambitions found within while working on a detective film.

Perfect Blue isn’t your ordinary film, let alone an ordinary anime. Western audiences often associate animation with kids movies that have easy-to-follow stories with easy-to-relate-to themes, whereas Japanese audiences tend to associate animated films with a wider spectrum of genres and age groups, often leaning more towards fantasy and sci-fi stories for mature audiences. Perfect Blue somehow manages to divert both those expectations entirely. Giving us themes that are darker, poignant, and very real within our current landscape, going as far as predicting how fame and obsession have mutated through technology; completely going against the grain of what eastern and western audiences expect from an animated picture.

A stalker starts to document Mima’s everyday life with an online diary pretending to be her. She begins to check in daily, finding disturbing accuracies of her daily life, moments on set, and even how she gets off the train. This obsession to check-in continues to grow as this online persona of hers refuses to let go of the sweet pop star image she is fighting to leave behind. The dark side of the industry begins pushing and coaxing her to fully shedding her good-girl image, most notably with a challenging moment from a scene she is shooting, not only for her but for us as well. Initially, it’s just a harmless scene to her and her cast members as they set up the shots, but eventually, it’s an alarming moment of a young woman losing a part of her identity before our very eyes - brutally tearing apart any resemblance of who she was, is and who she will become as she so desperately tries to latch onto a new identity she has yet to discover. Despite it being incredibly difficult to sit though, it’s an entirely necessary and brilliantly conceived scene that is executed to perfection. It’s violent, visceral, abrasive, and disorientating, forcing you to grapple with what is real and what is not as Mima’s reality begins to slowly slip away from her as she searches for her yet to be found new identity. The price of fame is ugly as the expectations of the industry and fans weigh down on her, slowly chipping away at her in the process. It’s a very real representation of how female pop stars often find themselves being forced to reinvent themselves within an industry shaped by toxic suits and fans alike.

What makes Perfect Blue such a uniquely distinct piece in anime is that it subverts so many of the pitfalls the medium tends to find itself relying on. Heavy expositional scenes are so frequent in anime that it seems to get a free pass more often than we'd like, but with Perfect Blue, none of that is present. Its incredibly unique narrative structure is highly complex not just for an animated feature, but for that of any feature in filmmaking as a whole. Its labyrinth-like structure constantly keeps you slipping off the edge of your seat as you fail to predict where each moment is taking you. The deeper we find ourselves sinking in the abyss of Perfect Blue, the more we find ourselves losing grasp of the very ideas of what we thought the film is about and where it’s heading, knocking us for a loop with each new twist and each new turn - playing on its psychological horror and thriller elements in keeping you perplexed until the last frame. It’s so effective that you will find yourself doubting the eligibility of the conclusion, forcing you to go back and unpack the whole experience once more.

The striking visual style is quintessentially Satoshi Kon, making use of highly imaginative and creative visuals that are perfectly suited to the voyeuristic experience and plot found within Perfect Blue. Almost every image and moment is iconic, going as far as influencing a famous bathtub scene in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. The provocative and dream-like visuals pair with the score to chilling effect, creating an atmosphere that is as eerie and disorientating as the ever-changing plot. Satoshi Kon loved to create works that scrambled your brain structurally, thematically and visually, making it a fine introduction to his consistently challenging and rewarding filmography.

Perfect Blue is not just an essential piece of anime, it’s an essential piece of cinema. It’s a master class in psychological thrillers and horrors that is rightfully analyzed for its ability to break the mould of the genres and mediums it inhabits. You don’t need to be a hardcore anime fan to approach and appreciate Perfect Blue, allowing audiences to fully envelop themselves in a world that is a reflection of today’s obsession with fame and identity. Brutal, mysterious, beautiful, and exhilarating, Hitchcock would be proud.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA)

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