Stephen reviews: Perfect Blue (1997)

perfect_blue1Perfect Blue [パーフェクト・ブルー] (1997)

Starring Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto

Directed by Satoshi Kon


This film worms its way under your skin and never comes back out. I knew this going into it, since I saw it back when it first came out, and its haunting tone and disjointed worldview have stayed with me ever since. In fact, I watched it at least three times back then and spent a good deal more time skimming around the last half trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on. I never really did. It’s one of those movies that really deserves the phrase “mind bending.” This time though, I think I finally got it. My sense of the surreal and the strange has been honed over the past decade. I wasn’t really ready for it as a teen, but I am now.

It’s difficult to sum up the nature of this film. While looking for horror anime to review for October, I noticed this film on someone’s top 10 list of horror anime. This surprised me, and never would have occurred to me normally, but after some thought I realized it was true. If movies ever scared me, this one would have given me nightmares. It can be called a slasher film, but it doesn’t have the body count necessary for a slasher film. Nor is it a mystery, since there is no single villain, and even at the end it’s arguable who killed who. It’s really a psychological thriller about a woman slowly going insane.

perfect_blue2Mima decides to leave her singing career, which she enjoys but doesn’t seem to be very lucrative, and turns to the field of acting, landing a role in a TV show that mirrors the plot of the movie. She’s not as comfortable with her new job, though, and her few fans are pretty upset about it as well. She also discovers a web site devoted to her, and the knowledge it has of her daily actions is disturbingly accurate. And as Mima’s acting roles become more sexually explicit, the crew involved in Mima’s new career start turning up dead.

If all there was to worry about was some stalker going on a killing spree, I might have gotten tired of it. But where the movie really hits its stride is when Mima begins hallucinating. She keeps seeing an image of herself that berates her for switching jobs when she loved singing so much. The image dances around her while remaining tantalizingly out of reach, bounding around and through objects while Mima chases after.

As the film goes on, her hallucinations worsen, and the film does a magnificent job of conveying the impending fear and paranoia that engulfs Mima, especially with the scene shifts. It constantly twists your expectations when starting a new scene. My favorite being when one character is attacked, and the scene immediately cuts to a car trunk slamming closed, but not the car of the assailant which you might expect. It’s a completely different group of people who have nothing to do with the assault.

perfect_blue3These jagged scene shifts gradually build up a disconnect with reality, so that by the end of the film you, as well as Mima, have no idea what is real. This could have easily turned into a confusing mess, and it will probably feel that way to many people. For me however, this kind of reality twisting is exactly what I’m looking for, and it has just enough explanation to feel like it knows what it’s doing, while still leaving a lot of things mysterious. It makes you think, if you want to understand what’s going on.

It would be too easy to just shrug off the film’s confusion as hallucinations that never actually happen. There’s a logic at work here, and the first time I saw the film I took it too realistically. I wanted the movie to make sense in a realistic way, but it has as much fantasy as anything. Now that I can see that, I found the film makes a good deal more sense this time around. That doesn’t mean that I’m certain of my conclusions, or that someone couldn’t come to a different answer and have good evidence to back up their arguments.

This is definitely a film for people who like to think about their movies and dissect them for answers. That type of story can annoy me if I feel that there are no answers to be found, but I felt that Perfect Blue does have answers buried inside its twisting maze of a story. Anyone who wants everything explained by the end is probably going to be more annoyed than entertained, but if you like a good thought-provoking story, then Perfect Blue is a riveting experience and well worth tracking down.

7 comments to Stephen reviews: Perfect Blue (1997)

  • This has been on my “To watch” list for ages and I’m really interested in seeing it. This review reminded me of that 🙂 I love movies that make you think.

    • Stephen

      Yeah, it’s a great film. Other than not being for everyone, I can’t come up with any real flaws. Maybe it could have had a little better animation, but since this was Satoshi Kon’s first film, I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation.

      Check it out. If you enjoy searching a film for clues like a detective at a crime scene, then this is a beauty.

  • Sounds great, Stephen, and I think I’ll definitely have to catch up with this one. It sounds remarkably similar to Black Swan in a lot of ways too, so I have to wonder if they were fans of this. I noticed a lot of other influences proudly displayed in that film, but it seems I may have missed one by not having seen this film!

    Anyway, really enjoyed this review, and I look forward to your takes on his other films if you decide to go there.

    • Stephen

      I never saw Black Swan, but your review kinda makes me want to check it out and compare the two. They do seem to have some common elements, but you would have to increase the 1/2 tbsp of mind-fuck to about three or four tbsp. Then make room for it by taking out the garment-ripping lesbian scene. Tragic, I know, but you’ll just have to live with a nude photo shoot instead.

      The other Western film that it reminds me of is The Cell which I recall being very trippy and psychologically confusing. But I don’t want to compare the two, because I don’t recall that film being all that good, while Perfect Blue is excellent.

      I do want to get into Kon’s other stuff some day. I’ve always wanted to give Paprika another shot. I don’t think I gave it a fair chance the first time I saw it. When it first came out on DVD it had some new-fangled anti-piracy trick that conveniently made it unplayable on every device I had access to at the time.

      By the time I finally found a player that could play the damn thing back, I had spent a frustrating hour or more trying to get it to work, and I was stuck watching it in a less than ideal location with occasional interruptions. So I was rather pissed off at it through no fault of the film itself, and I didn’t enjoy it that much. In retrospect, it was the kind of film I love, so I’ve always wanted to go back to it.

      • I would definitely recommend Black Swan, it’s a well-done movie. I don’t know how similar it really is to this one, but your review just made me think so much of Black Swan. I haven’t seen The Cell so I can’t comment on it, but I do remember them “celling” it as a mind-fuck movie.

        Ah man, that definitely sounds like Paprika needs to get a better chance!

  • Stephen

    Another movie for the ever growing to do list. Someday I’ll get through all this stuff, even if it is thirty years from now when I finally retire.

    By then the list will be so big that I’ll need every second of the life prolonging medicine they’ll have invented by then.

    • Hahahaha, yeah I know that feeling. I reached a point a few years ago where I realized that I would die before I ever got to the top of that mountain of stuff. It’d be fine if it was a stagnant list, but there’s always things being added.

      But I like the idea of utilizing all sorts of life extensions via science. I can’t die, I still need to watch seasons 4-7 of Three’s Company! This line of thought makes me think of the book Ready Player One, which is pretty much essential reading for any media/game junkie. I don’t mean to add another to the list, but it’s fucking awesome.

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