For those of you who don’t know, Satoshi Kon was one of the most celebrated Japanese directors. He use of the bizarre and psychological to add whimsy. He is responsible for one of my favorite films of all time Tokyo Godfathers. Unfortunately, he lost a battle to pancreatic cancer on August 24th, 2010, leaving a wonderful, but brief cinematic legacy behind.
This week on Manic Movie Magic, we’ll be looking at one of Kon’s most dark and influential pieces of cinema, as well as his directorial debut, Perfect Blue.
Released in 1997, we start off with Mima, who is part of a J-Pop idol trio named CHAM. They sing a very generic little pop diddy as we start off the film. I think this is as innocent as the movie gets, because things soon start to spiral down.
Mima leaves the moderately successful CHAM to become a serious actress, only to find the road to stardom isn’t as swift or easy as she believes. Once she’s gone, CHAM takes off as a duo, putting even more stress on her decision to leave. Between that and some rather racy scene in a TV drama she’s working on, she facing a veritable sea of pressure.
And from there, shit hits the fan pretty fast in this film, showing how Mima is slowly losing touch with reality. She finds a website where someone is pretending to be her, only it’s the her who is “forever young and beautiful.” She has an insane stalker, and everyone around her is getting murdered too.
I’m going to try really, REALLY hard not to spoil the ending, because if my review gets you to watch the film, you will thank me for not spoiling it. It is seriously messed up, and I will talk about the theme of the ending, but not any of the events that transpire.
My interpretation of the film, before I really sat down and wrestled with it, was of the nature of Asian idol culture and how it can really be messed up. It’s not the most intricate of theories but it works. Take, for example, how Mima’s online impersonator is mad because Mima’s been “ruining her image,” so much so, she goes on a killing spree. Japanese idols are infamous for having to keep up a certain image, and one too many slip-ups will both anger fans and get you dropped from your label. This puts huge amounts of pressure on the artist, and can really mess them up. Some stars have spoken out about how difficult idol life is – the physical exhaustion, the emotional isolation, and sometimes crippling depression. Not to mention the strict rules and supervision they get from their agents. It’s enough to drive anyone insane.
This interpretation is about knowing the Japanese culture, and so a lot of American or European readers don’t understand the idea of keeping Mima’s image intact from the pop idol side. Our pop artists do crazy shit all the time, and we forgive them because we find their antics enthralling. Britney Spears shaves her head, or Lindsay Lohan drives high, or even Robert Downey Jr. going to jail are all acceptable because we’re so interested in the crash, we want to see more. This would not fly in Japan. The example I love to use is Kago Ai – she was a pop idol in Japan, one of the biggest. But once she’s seen smoking underage, and she’s put on house lockdown and removed from the studio for a year. When the press finds out she has an older boyfriend, she is dropped all together. She was only 17, and a budding talent. But that’s the price of fame in Japan.
But thinking about it, the film also has to do with self-image and naivety in general. Mima is pretty stupid, and it’s obvious she’s got this vague dream she’s pursuing without much thought about what the steps mean as she get to her “end goal.” What is her goal? It’s to be a real actress, but what does that even mean? To have awards, to be a movie, to have a huge crowd of fans? Mima’s goals, and her self image is vague, and maybe doesn’t even exist, which is why she is so spacey. She doesn’t perceive herself well, or even know what exactly she wants, and that’s why her losing grasp of reality seems so realistic. Mima’s self-image comes from the value others put on her, and she only achieves happiness and self-worth by gaining the approval and acceptance of others.
Or I could just be theorizing out of my ass, whichever.
One of the things I was worried about when discussing Perfect Blue was the old argument of “Anime is not a valid form of cinema, and it cannot be deep in any way, shape or form cause it’s cartoons. It’s for little kids.” I cannot tell you how much as not only an anime fan, but a film fan in general does this attitude greatly annoy me. Like all media, animated films can be shallow or profound, all depending on the plot, and directing. Make no mistake, this film is a work of art both in style and content, due to the deeply disturbing story and the imaginative way it’s told. We have flaky romantic comedies, and television shows about people who are famous for being famous, how is that any more valid?
Also, take my advice. This is by no means a children’s movie, and if you do show it to a child, they will be terrified and all types of traumatized. The nightmares will never cease.
A lot of people noticed a lot similarities between this film and the recent psychological-thriller Black Swan, both in specific scenes and the style of the film. That’s because the director, Darren Aronofsky, even said he was influenced by this film…probably more than he would care to actually to admit, but it’s true. In fact, Perfect Blue is a very well done psycho-analytical thriller, one of the best of the genre, so it’s hard not to see its influence in some more modern films.
The animation is still fluid and impressive, even by today’s standards. It looks a little grainy, and the colors slightly dulled, but considering the increasingly amazing art of the here and now, it has aged really well, making use of its budget. It’s a beautiful looking film, in the style its drawn and the use of colors which suck the audience in.
I watched the film in the English dub, and not the original Japanese. To me, dubbing is much harder than just regular voice acting, and good dubs should be a highly celebrated thing. It’s not easy translating a script into another culture and language and getting the actors to fit the words in with the mouths on screen. That’s why there’s so much repetition of voice actors in the dub industry, because they know the system and they can do it best. As far as dubs go, this was a pretty good one. Wendee Lee as manager Rumi was, I’ll admit, my favorite choice in the cast, but Ruby Marlow as Mima and Bob Marx as the stalker Uchida are both great in their roles.
Perfect Blue is a wonderful film, strangely whimsical and also deeply, deeply disturbing, to the point where it leaves you a little blown away mentally. It’s a great film, one that should be seen by anyone who claims to love movies.
Next week, I’ll be reviewing the smash-hit Summer Wars. Why? Because now I’m on an anime movie binge. Blame all the turkey I ingested this week.