Thursday, 23 May 2019

Ani-MAY-tion: Perfect Blue (1997)

Mima (Junko Iwao) is a member of the J-pop group CHAM! She is idolised and adored by fans, but they are upset when she announces that she is leaving the band to become an actress. While getting used to the art of acting, her first job gives her only the one line that she frets over and rehearses again and again, Mima also has to deal with the fact that she seems to have a stalker, there's a website that purports to be her personal diary online, and people around her are starting to die.

If you think that Perfect Blue sounds like a standard thriller then you'd be right. But there are other elements in place that make it stand out. The main one being the fact that this is another animated movie from Satoshi Kon. You also get some wonderful moments that blur fantasy and reality, as you would expect from Kon.

I'm not going to beat about the bush here. I have seen three features from Kon (this one, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika). I gave those other two movies 9/10 ratings. This, his first feature as director, is his masterpiece. 10/10. It drew me in from the very beginning and kept me entranced throughout the runtime, even if the grand finale felt a little bit weaker than anything else that came before it.

The script, by Sadayuki Murai, is based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Not only does it sketch out the main characters and throw you quickly into a strange reality you can find both familiar and also new and unsettling (unless you have experience of being a J-pop star). It provides the standard tension and thrills, and there's a fake rape sequence that is somehow more disturbing because of the animation making it harder to completely separate bodies from one another, while also looking at what people do as they pursue fame, what others believe they are entitled to claim from celebrities, and the slippery slope from admiration to obsession.

Iwao is very good in the main role, Rica Matsumoto is also fine in a main supporting role (playing her manager, Rumi), and Masaaki Ōkura plays a stalker who may or may not be the biggest threat in the movie, but I am not going to pretend that their input is essential. It feels like the voices here come second to the visuals and the style of Kon, who is the main name drawing people to the film.

It may sound strange to say this but . . . everything in Perfect Blue feels so believable and authentic that it resonates much more than it otherwise would. There are some over-the-top murders, of course, but everything around the fresh corpses makes sense, even if watching a character have a delusion that involves an imaginary character talking to her. The glare of the spotlights, the desperate need to do well that leads to someone doing something they may regret, the creepy actions from fans that people handling a star will dismiss while they reassure their client that everything is fine.

I suspect that you could pick any Satoshi Kon movie as your absolute favourite on any given today. This is mine for today. That could change, although I don't foresee that happening any time soon.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get it here.

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