Retro Review: ‘Perfect Blue’

When one normally thinks of the hallmarks of Japanese anime they inevitably think of the standard: robots, super-powered beings, giant monsters etc. But the medium is quite capable of telling very grounded stories. Though these animes may not get the same level of fame they can become critical darlings and masterpieces within anime fandom. One such case is the 1997 psychological horror film Perfect Blue directed by the celebrated filmmaker Satoshi Kon.

It seems in every teen pop group there is one singled out as the one to go onto mega-stardom once their group fades away. For the J-Pop trio CHAM! that would be Mima who is hoping to parlay her music fame into an acting career. Though this change from wholesome pop star to serious actress does not sit well with one of her fans in particular. She discovers online a blog where a troubled fan is writing a journal called “Mima’s Room” written by someone with deeply personal knowledge about her life. Between the career change not going as she thought and an obsessive lunatic making their presence known, Mima’s mental status begins to spiral out of control. The problems in her life are only compounded when the people in her life begin to turn up brutally murdered.

When I was first introduced to Perfect Blue it was described to me as a movie that Alfred Hitchcock would have made if he collaborated with Walt Disney. This description holds up damn well as Satoshi Kon expertly blends rich animation with gripping suspense. While this is a thriller grounded in the real world, as Mima’s sanity begins to crack and fall apart, we have plenty of eerie surreality where the viewer begins to question what is real and what is not. She is a naïve but hopeful young woman who is thrown into the deep end of the perverse and greedy side of the entertainment industry when she is far from ready for it. She tries to hold onto her soul while being besieged by those who see her as merely an asset to make money in addition to a psychotic fan who is willing to kill in order to preserve his image of her. This keeps you glued to this film as we try to piece together what is actually happening up until the horrifying climax of the film.

Though he passed away far too young in 2010, Satoshi Kon left behind a stellar body of work. His films Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers are hailed as being among the greatest anime films ever made. His success can all be traced back to Perfect Blue, his full length feature directorial debut. This is one of those films that only gets better with each viewing as it sucks you in and forces you to piece everything together even when you are not entirely sure what the truth is.