More noise than signal

Perfect Blue

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

When Mima Kirigoe quits a small time J-Pop Idol group to pursue a career in acting, it starts a chain of events that will cause more drama than is in the roles she’s offered. Struggling to make a name for herself, she agrees to a controversial rape scene with the hope of changing the public’s perception of her.

Some members of the public, however, seem violently opposed to any change in image, as members of the production crew start being gruesomely killed. This is upsetting enough, but between this stress and that caused by her being introduced to a website, “Mima’s Room”, pretending to be Mima’s diary and containing enough detail to know that this stalker has very close access to her, it’s a bad time for Mima’s mental health, and she will soon not know where the actor ends and she begins, or indeed where the person ends and her public image ends, be that new or old.

All this sets up a very engaging thriller indeed, albeit one that’s on repeat viewing, maybe a touch too well signposted and relying a little too heavily on a correlation between physical beauty and character, or rather the lack of both, which… well, maybe hasn’t aged well, but it was a bit of a crutch even back in ’97. That, however, is a slight niggle to pick with a story that’s otherwise a very tightly told 80 minutes of pleasingly twisty narrative and character work that’s never less than captivating.

I’ll always have a small truck load full of nostalgia for Perfect Blue, because I think it was the first anime I’d seen, certainly in a cinema, that deals with adult themes, or, well, adult themes other than assorted flavours of violence, so it certainly opened up to me a vista of other avenues of story that could be explored in the medium, more concerned with internal conflict than external. There had been things like Ghost in the Shell that I’d seen before it, I think, but that was a sci-fi robot trojan horse containing philosophy, not something, as with Perfect Blue that could feel as comfortable told in live action.

Well, at least thematically, however one of the advantages of the medium for this kind of thing is the recurring Kon techniques of merging competing narratives and realities to keep you guessing about what’s really happening, while not alienating the audience. I’ve seen less talented filmmakers try similar tricks and fall flat, but Kon was a master of it.

While I suppose you could say, almost objectively, that Kon went on to do better films on almost every axis you could judge a film, I would always have a soft spot for Perfect Blue for aforementioned nostalgia reasons so I was perhaps a little apprehensive about revisiting it, but I need not have worried. For a theatrical feature debut, it’s remarkably accomplished, polished, and absorbing. Spoilers – there’s not a Satoshi Kon film I’ve met that I won’t recommend, so arguing about positions in a league table seems a little redundant, particularly in a tragically small league. Might as well start at the beginning, and this is a very great beginning indeed.