Perfect Blue is an anime movie that has been on my “want to watch” list for ages, but now I finally got around to watching it*. And right now, I want to punch my past self in the face and tell him to watch this asap. You should do it too.
Story and characters
“When popular pop idol Mima decided to retire from her group, Cham, and become an actress, she had no idea that one person's obsession would soon spiral out of control. With death threats, letter bombs and a forged website which details her every move, Mima finds herself slowly becoming trapped in a nightmare she can't seem to escape. With murders piling up and her mental state slowly degrading, can she discover who the culprit is, before she becomes the next victim?”
With this pretty simplistic set-up, Perfect Blue delivers a great 80-minute ride. There is suspense throughout the movie, even if the solution to the « mystery » of who the killer is has a seemingly obvious answer. It doesn’t matter if you know or think you know it, because this isn’t some whodunnit. No, this is a psychological thriller, meaning the most important thigs are a suspenseful atmosphere, and an emphasis on the psyche or mental state of the characters. And this movie shines in both parts.
As a thriller, it’s great because it manages to create an atmosphere of excitement, suspense, anticipation of coming events. It keeps you on edge, eager to see the next event. This is executed perfectly in this movie: creepy moments are creepy, uncomfortable moments are uncomfortable, and reveals reveal things. I might be stating the obvious here, but bad execution could screw those things up, so I guess I just want to say: it’s a good thriller.
As for the psychological part in “psychological thriller”: this is executed even better. A main character that gets fleshed out well, who has mental problems, and the delusions she gets because of this. Because of how the movie is presented, the line between illusion and reality becomes a blur. Kind of like what happens in movies like Fight Club, Vertigo or Shutter Island, among many others. Reality doesn’t always have to be real, right?
Even after the end of the movie, the blur remains in some parts. I watched this movie twice in two days, and there are still parts where I can say that multiple interpretations are possible. It should be noted that this is NOT a bad point, nor are those ambiguous things “plot holes”. These moments are meant to make you think about the characters, about what they were thinking, feeling, and doing at that time. This works for all the important characters, which is why I rate the characters so highly too: they shone throughout the entire movie.
Animation and artwork
Going by the info I found elsewhere, Perfect Blue was originally meant to become a live-action movie, but because sponsors cancelling that idea was cancelled. It was then decided to make it an OVA series, but ended up becoming a movie. Why do I tell you this? Well, to explain the animation problems which are mainly seen in the first 10 minutes. Clunky movements and bodies that get shaken up and down while talking are some of the main problems in this timeframe, but after a while the animation gets a bit better. It’s still old and not the best even for it’s age though.
As for the artwork… overall it’s ok, although not too special. There are, however, some character designs that are off-putting. Why they would put eyes so far apart to get fish-faces is beyond me, but it makes Rumi, Me-mania and the photographer really annoying to look at.
Although the soundtrack isn’t the most memorable, it did it’s job of enhancing the tense atmosphere. The contrast between the “suspense” music and the catchy pop-songs also worked well to strengthen the atmosphere.
Voice acting was good overall, although I found Me-mania’s voice unfitting for the character. Just my opinion though, and I don’t see anyone else complaining about it. Maybe I’m just weird…
Perfect Blue is a great psychological thriller, which you shouldn’t just watch once. Watch it twice, or as many times as you need or want to.
I'm giving this an overall score of 9.5/10, because all those small "problems" seem oh so minor when compared to the big picture. Meaning this is my second 5-star rating for anime out of over 200 titles. Definitely a recommended watch!
*I finally got around to watching this thanks to the Daily Anime Marathon Club!
The story is a hard fact thriller, although it does make you question the sanity of both the characters and the writter until you're done and you've had time to mull it over.
If you do pay close attention to the evidence offered you throughout the story the reveal at the end makes perfect sense, but you really do need to pay attention or else you run the risk of contracting an extreme case of confusion.
I'm always tentative about nudity and sex in stories. With the backdrop of the world of fame and acting I can understand the reasoning but I do feel this film could have done fine without it. regardless I feel it wasn't obscene and expressed the intended message.
for '97 the animation is impeccable, the direction and quality of work really shows itself when you start to get into the blended scenes where the reality in the film starts to jumble together with the anxiety growing inside the protagonist.
The facial expressions were emotive, and just muted enough to feel natural.
The muddier tones in the colour pallete helped emphasis the Mamia character in the late film, which really impressed me.
The sound design was good, nothing wrong with it, but it didn't stand out to me as individual to "perfect blue" It did keep me in the intended mood of WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT? *heart attack*
The character design was intended to be realistic, but every character was still unique from the last. I never felt confused about who was who. There are even character design cues as to who the victams and who the villains were. although they wouldn't fly in modern day north america and one might find them offensive it is a trick designers can respect in a complete work of art.
almost a perfect 100% score.
This is the debut work of the now late Satoshi Kon, and straight away he proved how talented he is in making quality anime. Combined with the huge budgets by such as Madhouse, the king of anime studios, the result was more than great. It is a great psychological thriller and shows well how fame makes you marry a role from which you cannot get a divorce without challenging you mental health.
What I liked about Satoshi’s style is how he is constantly criticizing the society his characters live in. Instead of going for the easy way out and offering fan catering and escapism (aka what almost every anime does these days) he instead went the other way and went preachy about the modern way of Japan. And he wasn’t too “in your face” while doing that, so it was a great overall.
In this movie for example he delves into the dark side of the pop idol industry, which all other anime are presenting to be all fun and games. Ok, perhaps some exceptions include Looking for the Full Moon and Key the Metal Idol but all anime in general present them in the same way Hollywood tries to deify its actors and singers. Yet it is easy to see how most of them are behind the scenes up to the knee in drugs, sex scandals, and death threats, thus you get this movie trying to get into those issues.
The protagonist is quite the good girl but because of the pressure of her line of work she leaves her very popular music band to become a solo actress. This is seen very negatively by her fans who do the usual stupid things all fans do. Things get even messier when her new colleagues in the movie industry are killed one after another, while someone pretends to be updating her online blog. Thus it appears that a lunatic stalker turned to a killer and is out to destroy her for betraying her love to him.
There are some really disturbing truths and facts in the film, such as showing how an angelic figure of a teen idol is eventually led to do pornography if she needs to keep her line of work and not be kicked out in the streets. There is also the mentality of the audience who expect to see her being sexualized as well as the fanatic followers who refuse to allow their favourite idols to mature or adjust to the passing of time.
What makes it so great though is how everything is so blurred and confusing. You have no idea half the time if something is reality, a dream, or perhaps a hallucination. Is the rape scene real, an act, or real that her mind made her believe it was an act? Was she really waking up from her bed or was it all a nightmare? And what the hell what that bizarre chase in the end where she is hunted by a shape shifter? All that can of course be excused as mind tricks caused by her stress or even flashy cinematics for the sake of making a blunt story to look more interesting. It still looks gorgeous, has amazing production values for its time, professional directing, and leaves food for the mind without directly bombarding you with morality speeches.
Now, I have heard lots of people who didn’t like the movie at all, saying it was slow, the stalker was a magician, the ending was rushed, or that its themes are commonplace in all psychological thrillers. Although all that stand true up to a point, the truth is not many films have managed to combine said elements in order to create this surreal result. Some can say live action movies such as Citizen Kane or Black Swan did a much better job but when it comes to the anime medium it just stands out from the lot. There aren’t many titles that manage to be really creepy and unsettling as Perfect Blue, and this alone is what makes it a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.
The story is basically an observation of how obsessive and extreme people can become when they want to preserve a certain image of a celebrity. It's fairly slow-moving but if it was paced any faster almost all of the atmosphere and build-up would be taken away. It keeps you gripped and constantly wanting to know who this stalker is and what he wants/why he's going to such lengths.
Through a lot of the film I was completely unsure on whether what Mima's seeing is real or if she's hallucinating due to intense paranoia. Metaphors and illusions are used brilliantly and nothing is spoon-fed to you. The whole premise of the film strikes me as a stab at Japanese celebrity culture, and the execution is demented and even disturbing at some points. Mima's acting roles are often used to represent her train of thought and the fact you often view events through her eyes really adds an original touch.
Colours in Perfect Blue are very washed out and dull, which creates an incredibly realistic atmosphere. Because the colours and appearances of things are so ordinary I almost forgot it was animated. There's definitely a sense of realism to the art style. As well as that, the muted colours make for a very dramatic change when something violent happens; blood is much more vibrant in colour compared to everything else so it's a shock to the system.
Animations flow very smoothly and the character designs are pretty good. Some characters look deformed but it's almost like the appearance of each character mimics their mental state. It's a very interesting use of appearance in relation to reality.
I found the opening theme forgettable, but the music in the actual anime is incredibly well thought-out, It fits in with the creepy, surreal feel the whole film has to it. In a couple of violent scenes, music from Mima's band is used. That definitely makes for a disturbing touch.
The voice-acting is very good (subbed) - the characters sound real enough for you to genuinely feel tense when something bad may be about to happen to them. A special mention is definitely deserved for Mima and Rumi's voice actors, and the voice given to Uchida fits him perfectly.
One thing I loved about Perfect Blue was the use of silence. There isn't constant music like there seems to be in a lot of thrillers and horrors. Silence and a lack of music is used for maximum effect and it results in some incredibly creepy and harrowing scenes.
The characters aren't original - there's the pop idol, the protective agent and the crazy stalker... but the way they're used makes their personalities perfect. It would be hard to get quite as striking an effect with different character archetypes.
Mima was quite a well-rounded character in that you see her go from a normal well-adjusted pop idol to a raving, gibbering paranoid wreck, and it's done incredibly convincingly. Rumi again fits into a stereotype but her character is essential to the story.
I personally found Uchida terrifying. His demeanour and general attitude was quite realistic and the way he was drawn, although bordering caricature, somehow made him even scarier. He's every celebrity's worst nightmare.
Perfect Blue is a gripping thriller with a well-rounded and developed cast of characters, very good voice acting and interesting social commentary on celebrity culture. It twists and turns and keeps you guessing, and when you finally reach the end of this disturbing mental rollercoaster chances are you'll be surprised at where you end up. DEFINITELY recommend.
*Boogiepop Phantom (similar moods and art style)
*Death Note (themes of insanity and uncertainty)