Movie Reviews

Perfect Blue: A Film Of Metamorphosis

Perfect Blue (Pâfekuto burû) was a film that should have been a part of the Satoshi Kon Mini Movie Marathon list, but I wanted to review it separately. Years later, I am reviewing it now. This is a trippy, cleverly directed anime that after twenty years from its original release, it’s still influential in modern cinema. If you seen Black Swan, it’s heavily “borrows” from Perfect Blue. There’s so much I would like to say about this film. Furthermore, even if the film is an animated production, this film is not a children’s movie due to the thematically subject matter and graphically illustrated violent scenes.

Mima Kirigoe is an early twenties pop star in Japan who wants to do something else because the pop star life was stifling. She was the lead singer in a three girl group called CHAM!. She has the usual fan base of a pop band but was mostly made of men. She talks to her management team about her opportunity to season guest star on a crime drama series Double Bind. At this time in her early acting career, there were attacks on set from an unknown assailant, signs of stalking behaviour directed at Mima and a troubling scene Mima filmed at a nightclub that is an anchor point of the film turning more disturbing. The mental state of Mima stresses and becomes a woman divided from who she is now and the woman she once was. She sees apparitions of herself warning her about her new career path and discouraging her about the change. The more the movie progresses, the more her fans turns on her, the stalking becomes deadlier, the exploitative nature of show business is revealed more and her problems with psychosis becoming more vivid.

Screenshot of Madhouse’s Perfect Blue (1997).

It was originally supposed to developed into a live action film but after the Kobe earthquake the film was released into an animation instead.

The story was based on the Japanese novel, Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. But director Satoshi Kon and screenplay writer Sadayuki Murai made some changes to the story since they thought the novel wasn’t a strong enough story for the film. They were able to do so if they were able to keep the original concepts from the novel. The themes seen in the film are toxic celebrity culture, voyeurism, stalking, sexual violence, perception, life changes and identity. The film does get progressively darker after Mima starts her acting career. Mima is constantly scrutinized for her actions by “adoring” fans and business associates. Mima’s mind suffers because of the stress of her environment. The character hallucinates a vision of her former self telling her things Mima thinks she would say and believe if she was still a pop star talking to her current self in a belittling corrupt way. “Pop Star Mima” is only seen by Mima when she is facing a moral dilemma. I found the existential character talking to Mima to be the doubts and expectations others had for her that Mima absorbed. “Pop Star Mima” is also a delusion that Mima is not the only one who can sees it in a way. It’s very spooky and a good twist.

The story weaves in fantasy and out of reality with how the story is told. The animation uses elements of blocking and weaving scenes that are different than each other together. This creates a reality of confusion built a mystery around suspicious murders around Mima and the state of Mima’s mind. There are symbolic uses of red that become more apparent after the starting changes to her career; like her inner self is always reminding her of her former life which gives her doubts about the new changes in her life. The colour red was Mima’s former on-stage performance when she was in CHAM!. Some scenes of “un-reality” would be the stalker’s room filled with images of Mima when is was in CHAM! in similar poses that somehow move and talk. Other themes that can go over some people’s heads can be down to the title, Perfect Blue. It’s a reference to the clear blue sky in the film. The sky represents Mima’s mind in some parts of the film. When time blends together for Mima, the sky becomes more precipitated and cloudy. In the film when realities just don’t make sense anymore, it’s pouring rain with storm clouds. (Furthermore, I think that’s why the title card is practically clear.)

Screenshot of Madhouse’s Perfect Blue (1997). CHAM! last performance.

Other themes in the film can be too much for some people, like the sexual violence in Perfect Blue. It’s really dark but very prevalent in the first half of the film showing pressures of the new role she has to do as an actress in a mature crime drama and the new roles in her own life as an actress. Meanwhile, Mima is being stalked by a craze obsessive cyber-stalker that has a website about Mima’s daily routine. The graphic depictions of physical violence and death have a lot of blood. There is actually a lot of blood and gore in this film.

The character designs are not too stylized with weird hair. They have a humanoid look to them with anime features like the large eyes and tiny nose but fairly realistic in some ground of reality. All the characters look different from each other with wardrobe changes for Mima in different scenes in the film. Mima’s business management team has a typical middle-aged business look. CHAM! having a red, green and blue colour scheme for the group representing the colours of light. The oddest character design is the craze obsessive cyber-stalker, Mr. Me-Mania, with the budging eyes, long hair and gangling body. He just looks very intimidating. The background characters in the crowds are drawn very limited by beginning without faces or general expressions.

The animation is hand-drawn 2D with some computer clean up. The streets, Mima’s room and Double Bind’s set are drawn with a lot of detail. The look of 1990’s Tokyo is detailed with background puns of film studios and various products. All of the characters, architecture and background scenery is drawn in thin semi-faint lines. The colour schemes changes depending on the type of scene for example Mima’s room is predominately brown, orange and yellow while Mr. Me-Mania’s room is predominately green with dark shadows. Both rooms are messy in a way related to character.

The instrumental theme music, Virtual Mima, can sound a little elicited because of the 90’s neo-noir sound. The spoken word music from CHAM! which is the other theme song, Angel Of Love (Ai No Tenshi), is this upbeat, techno-pop song. It’s really catchy and was used effectively in the scene you hear the song.

Screenshot of Madhouse’s Perfect Blue (1997). Mima looking out through a window from an apartment.

Also, there’s some scenes with early internet. It’s more kitschy for me to see in movies to look at the depictions of early internet culture and technology with each passing year.

The film is a cult classic and very influential with many filmmakers. But I like the film because the story id layered and I find something new to me every once in a while. The film can be scary because it is told in a blurred reality with attacks happening around the lead character who is unreliable in her own way. It’s a psychological thriller with multiple uneasy topics that can get under your skin when you think about what’s going on to the characters constantly thinking about the plot and motives. Much better than a jump scare with a person in a rubber mask. But it’s not a horror movie, it’s a suspense thriller which can be freakier. In recent years, many people connect the themes of this story of toxic celebrity to social media. This just shows a new interpretation of a classic film for a new audience. This is a film I would recommend to someone who likes thrillers with mature content.


Trailer Perfect Blue (1997)

Genre: Thriller/Animation/Suspense
Year: 1997
Duration: 81 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Five out of five stars

All screenshots are from the film

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