There are many stereotypical views of anime: That it’s strangely pedophilic, that it’s for kids, and/or that it’s all tentacle porn. While, yes, for the most part this is true, there are are still plenty of examples where anime transcends these trivial stereotypes and becomes something truly worth placing next to the greats of cinema. One can of course point to Cowboy Bebop or the insanely popular Ghibli films, like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, but there are far more underrated works that deserve attention, particularly those of director Satoshi Kon. To be clear, it’s not that his works are without critical acclaim, rather it’s that his movies are criminally under-watched by the anime community and the movie audience at large. Perfect Blue, his first film, is a masterfully crafted psychological thriller that has been commonly compared to a Hitchcock film. While I disagree that the two are linked in any way thematically or stylistically, it’s hard to not compare how well the two directors handle the genres and mediums they operate within.
Perfect Blue centers around Mima Kirigoe, the former lead singer of the pop group “CHAM!,” who decides to go into acting despite the pop idol stigma around her. Her first project, the gritty crime drama series “Double Bind,” leaves a few fans upset, particularly the mysterious stalker “Me-Mania.” Mima receives a fax reading “Traitor” and an explosive letter in the mail, but is continually assured by her manager Ruma Hidaka that she should just ignore it. Mima disappoints Ruma by going along with the writer of Double Bind, who wants her to participate in a rape scene that will lead to her part becoming bigger. In order to help her career and not let down everyone who helped her get to where she is, Mima goes through with it, but finds herself conflicted since it means the surefire death of that pop star image she had. A website she finds, titled “Mima’s Room,” which chronicles her life in an eerily accurate way doesn’t help either, as it idolizes that pop star persona of hers and soon she starts hallucinating that this persona is criticizing her. As her career starts to spiral out of her control, partially thanks to a manipulative photographer that publishes nude photos of her, her state of mind fragments and her sense of reality slips away dramatically.
Perfect Blue is an interesting look at the entertainment industry and how daunting it can be to its young entrants. The dynamic and clear-cut characters that populate the sets and meetings give the film a sense of reality, but leaves it a little cold (as it should). Mima’s childlike and casual way she deals with the prospect of the writer of “Mima’s Room” stalking her is a wake-up call for the audience, that is until she herself understands and we’re brought crashing into the realization that this must be what it’s like for real child stars. While it’s not clear what age Mima is supposed to be, the film is most certainly a tale of reaching maturity and shedding your child persona, and this is unfortunately best shown in the “rape scene” shoot. With the similarity between the costume she’s wearing on set and the costume she wore on stage as part of CHAM! we can understand that this is not just a “raping” of her, but a raping of her childhood.
Satoshi Kon does a brilliant job of messing with the audience’s sense of reality through the characters’ delusions. The appearance of Idol Mima to both Mima, as a way of taunting her and degrading her actions, and Me-Mania, as a way of egging him on ever closer to violence, confuses the audience into wondering if the delusions could possibly be connected by some supernatural force. Then as Mima’s sense of reality completely breaks into a series of loosely connected and repeating scenes, we as the audience have no sense of what’s real and what’s not. What does become clear as the sequence goes on are a few key events. Both the writer and photographer have been killed (possibly by Mima) and Me-Mania, finally convinced that Mima is a fake, is out to kill her.
Despite its discontinuous nature, Perfect Blue has a fairly simple narrative and the movie’s story is quite clear once it is finished, however the confused reality the audience experiences throughout the film does add to the enjoyment of getting to that point. Satoshi Kon could have left such confusion out, but he didn’t because unlike most directors in anime Kon has a sense of artistic style as well as narrative structure. Kon approaches an anime film like a film and not an anime, keeping himself separated from the Otaku culture that most anime producers are inevitably pulled into. Unlike even great directors like Hayao Miyazaki, Kon has a unique and artistic sense of editing and cinematography. There are shots in Perfect Blue that will leave any cinephile stunned at their beauty, and they’re accentuated by clever editing techniques. It’s astonishing that Perfect Blue is Kon’s first film, as he clearly already has a mastery and comprehension of the craft.
Perfect Blue has a slow first two acts, but it’s never unapparent that it’s building towards something. If you wait patiently the third act will blow you away by proving that Perfect Blue is not just a fantastic anime or an exciting thriller, but an impressive film. The animation isn’t the highest quality, but it gets the job done and well, even better than a live action film could in my opinion. Most of Kon’s works could have been shot as live-action films, but in animation he can achieve exactly the imagery he wants and I’m thankful for that. Many people brag about anime’s “mature storytelling” all the while showing off a series that arguably is no more mature than an episode of CSI, however Perfect Blue lives up to this claim and I highly recommend it to not only anime fans, but to anyone seeking a good mystery/thriller film or those who scoff at anime as just pantsu-filled cartoons.
What are your thoughts on Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon, and/or high quality anime? Sound off in the comments below!