Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is one of the most beautiful, yet disorienting animated films ever made. Although the film was originally conceived as a live action feature, an earthquake destroyed the studio which later resulted in the film’s budget being used to turn the same story into that for an animated film, and with the very vision that Kon creates for his directorial debut, it’s hard to see Perfect Blue any other way. With Perfect Blue, it’s astonishing how Kon utilizes the medium in order to create a deeply layered tale for what’s only his first feature, leaving behind one of the most harrowing thrillers of the 1990’s.
The film starts with a performance of the J-pop group CHAM!, where it is soon announced that one of its members, Mima Kirigoe will be leaving shortly afterwards. Hoping to transition from her career as an idol to become an actress, her fans are upset with this sudden change – having always envisioned her within that image of an idol. This is all one needs to know about Perfect Blue before stepping into the very world that Satoshi Kon creates, but what makes the film every bit as gripping as it is can be felt from the way in which we slowly see Mima’s life shattering, suffering torment from the images of her past and a suspicion of being followed by a crazed fan.
While it would be easy to assume that this sort of story would lend itself well to live-action, Satoshi Kon’s attention to detail makes the blur between Mima’s reality and perceived image all the more apparent: from the small bits that make up Mima’s daily life as well as the sharp contrasts in colour as she loses grips with her own identity. Many visual illusions that blend together in order to create Mima’s disorienting perception of reality could only seem possible with animation, but also are used effectively in order to continuously build that blur between reality and what Mima believes she’s seeing. But this also builds up towards the greater scope of Kon’s message, further vindicating its relevance in today’s world.
In the eyes of many, Mima would also be seen as the perfect idol: an image of innocence that almost seems godlike. But the more we see Mima in her daily life, we see a different person almost entirely, one that lives an ordinary life, minds her own business. Because of this, it also becomes so much easier to identify with Mima’s own experiences whether they be within her personal life or within her own work. So much of this film is built on how everyone sees Mima, but it’s also a crucial factor towards the more unsettling aspects of Perfect Blue. It all forms the basis of what later becomes a journey for Mima to reclaim her identity after the entertainment industry have created one of their own for the public to cling onto.
Although the film shows its age in certain aspects (Mima being taught how to use Netscape of all things would probably be eyebrow-shifting now), its core message is one that still resonates. There’s a scathing critique of the way the entertainment industry treats idols, let alone how they also manipulate the people they see their fans through the personas that come about. Mima’s whole life has been built around this image of innocence, to that point her sudden change in career only upsets those who still want that image of Mima to live on. To them, the “real” Mima doesn’t even exist at all, but it’s also because she isn’t made out to be a person to these people but some sort of entity catering to another’s pleasure, which creates a far more haunting film altogether.
It’s astonishing enough that Perfect Blue is only Satoshi Kon’s first feature as a director, because it also could make a case for the most upsetting animated film of all time. Perhaps it’s not upsetting in the sense that it’s depressing, but upsetting as a visceral experience, because from start to finish, Kon leaves you on the edge wondering who you can trust. It’s hard to see this same movie working with the same effect in live action, but to think that Kon was able to balance all of this into what was also his first feature is truly astonishing. I can’t think of many other animated films quite like this, but that’s also what makes me believe it to be a must-see. It’s a film that makes you feel like you’re losing grips with the world around you, just like Mima, but also one that immerses you into her own world – which makes it stick even more.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Madhouse.
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Screenplay by Sadayuki Murai, from the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
Produced by Hitomi Nakagaki, Yoshihisa Ishihara, Yutaka Tōgō, Masao Maruyama, Hiroaki Inoue
Starring Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shiho Niiyama, Masaaki Okura, Shinpachi Tsuji, Emiko Furukawa
Release Date: August 5, 1997
Running Time: 81 minutes