A Selection from My Collection: Perfect Blue
By Chris Kavan - 05/21/11 at 08:57 AM CT
Welcome to what I hope will be a new weekly blog here at FilmCrave. If you havenít had the chance to view my movies I own Ė well, I have A LOT of movies in what I like to think is a wide range of genres. Thus each week I will pick, at random, a movie to watch, analyze and hopefully provide some insight into why I chose to own that particular film.
So what will be the inaugural film? I think itís a great choice Ė a film thatís probably not as well known as some others I own and happens to be in a genre I feel in unfairly maligned. Iím talking about Perfect Blue from the late director Satoshi Kon. Yes, itís an anime but whether you know about Konís body of work or not, this is not a kidís cartoon. Itís a very dark psychological thriller that I dare say has shades of Hitchcock mixed with a bit of David Lynch and a great twist that would impress M. Night Shyamalan.
!!WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!!
Iíll try to avoid major plot points, but thereís a good chance some things will slip by. Anyway, a brief synopsis: Mima is a pop idol from the girl-group CHAM who has decided to leave the life behind and pursue an acting career. Yet she soon finds that the transition is not as smooth as she expected and finds herself on the seedier side of things going from bit parts in dramas to playing rape victims and posing nude. Soon she becomes the focus of a stalker and the situation begins to play havoc with her mind, not to mention putting those around her in danger, and she begins to question the reality around her.
If it sounds like a total mind trip, you would be right. If there is one thing about Konís films, itís that he is a master of blending together dreams and reality (or in this case nightmares and reality). His films arenít always easy to follow but if you stick with them, and actually use that melon of yours, youíll find that there is a method to this madness.
Perfect Blue is also a harsh look at the world of show business and stardom. If youíre not familiar with the Japanese obsession with pop idols, think of a combination singer, model and actress that, like a shooting star, has a short period of popularity before fading out (for the most part). They often have a rabid, devoted and scrutinizing fan base and are not afraid to promote themselves by utilizing their sexuality. While not all idols fall into the categorization, many do. It would not be a stretch of the truth for a once-popular idol to choose the route taken in Perfect Blue, as the life of most (not all) idols are short.
Even if it is brief, it seems like the payoff isnít worth the price. Perfect Blue was made in 1998, still in the early years of the Internet (considering the main character professes ignorance of a homepage). Today itís even easier to keep track of your favorite idol and with so many people monitoring just about everything in your life, itís no wonder someone could snap. The paparazzi have nothing on a dedicated pop idol fan base. While it may take a few bizarre turns along the way, Kon was also crafting a pretty harsh assessment of this world.
Yet Perfect Blue is also a movie about identity. The tag line ďexcuse me...who are you?Ē is a perfect summation of the film as Mima discovers a website that was created without her knowledge that pretty much describes everything she does, down to her shopping habits and mannerisms. Yet as she goes from pop idol to actress to victim her mind just begins to crack and different parts of her personality manifest. Meanwhile there are other people who are more than happy to take up her identity for her Ė including what has to be one of the creepiest-looking stalkers ever to grace the screen. Yet things go from bad to worse as Mima soon canít separate dreams from reality and scenes from the series sheís filming and real life become harder and harder to discern even as people sheís worked with are being killed.
While the animation might not be as polished as some of the other movies that came out around the same time, the story makes up for the somewhat basic style. This is a film that doesnít need a lot of flash and, in fact, I would put this on par with Akira in terms of bringing anime to an adult level. Also, on a personal note, while the English dub isnít exactly terrible I am, and will always remain, a sub fan. Unless youíre lazy or have really bad eyesight, I will always recommend the original language with subtitles over any dub. There are a few exceptions Iíll make, but they are few and far between.
The influence it had extends beyond the genre. The most lasting impression comes from a different director: Darren Aronofsky who bought the American rights of the film for ONE particular scene (of the main character submerging herself in the bath) and used it for Requiem for a Dream and later in Black Swan. Black Swan, in particular, also deals with identity and itís apparent that Aronofsky was moved enough to use the scene twice.
While I canít recommend this as an entry-level anime for people who are thinking about giving this genre a try (I would much rather push something by Hayao Miyazaki Ė Spirited Away or Howlís Moving Castle maybe) Ė this is something quite different from any other anime film. If youíre willing to give a lowly cartoon the benefit of the doubt, I think youíll be surprised at how much impact it can have.