Still from Perfect Blue (1997)

A Look Back: Perfect Blue

A Viewing of Satoshi Kon’s Animated Psycho-Thriller Masterpiece in 2020

It has been quite a while since I’ve written one of these A Look Back pieces, and to be quite honest, it’s been a little while since I’ve written anything non-education related. Personally, this time off from writing has me feeling a bit refreshed and with a bit of new life for this all. Just some background information on where I’m at currently; the last film I wrote a review for was Sonic the Hedgehog in February (also my last time at a movie theater), was preparing for Spring Break in the beginning of March, was sent home early from College as my University shutdown a few days before our break was scheduled to start, turned 21 a day after moving back home, and have since been engaging in social distancing, and in the process, have been watching a ton of films. March was hectic to say the least, but April, has been a bit better. The world is still a scary, ever-changing place right now with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to dominate the world, but hopefully, for anyone reading this, you have found comfort in the safety of your own home or apartment, whether it be with loved ones, reading books, watching movies, binging television shows, playing some unplayed video games, learning new hobbies such as cooking or painting, whatever it may be, these are hard times and I hope you are getting through them the best way possible.

With all of that being said, let’s take A Look Back at Satoshi Kon’s 1997 masterpiece, Perfect Blue.

I don’t even know how to properly star this. This film is, challenging, to say the least. I think for me personally, the best comparison to an experience (not the actual movie itself) would to be AKIRA, in that I knew very little going in, had a potential mind/life-altering experience watching it, and felt a wave of emotions afterwards. The difference is that I knew the basic plot with AKIRA, whereas I knew next to nothing about Perfect Blue the first time I saw it (which was during this period of staying home), besides that it was a thriller. For those who have yet to see this movie, all I can say to you is… please stop reading this, go rent/buy the film, experience it, and then come back to this article. Seriously, do not read any further ahead if you haven’t seen this, it will truly ruin your personal viewing if you go into this movie knowing much at all. Do yourself a favor; do not spoil it for yourself!

OKAY. The warning was put out there… So if you have watched Perfect Blue before, I can only assume that at least one person reading this had the exact same question as the film finished as myself, which was merely, “What the fuck?”. Apologies for the explicit language there, but to be fair, this film is quite adult so if you are reading this, this shouldn’t be totally out of left field.

Gif from Perfect Blue (1997)

In regards to the plot of the film, there is undeniably something being said by the Satoshi Kon about fame and fortune, living the lavish life of being a Pop Idol or famous actress. We see Mima at the height of her success with Cham! as she exits the group to may the foray into acting, with a gig on the show Double Bind. Soon after, she is quickly taken advantage of by being put in a rape scene on the show, which also happens to force her into doing nudity in the scene, killing her Popstar image in the process. From there out, this fall continues, as we see her doing a fully nude photoshoot, in which the other members of Cham! refer to the photographer as being a sleaze. I think it is a given to say that viewing this for the first time in 2020 puts a totally different perspective on things in a post Time’s Up/#MeToo world, in which numerous women in show business came forward with stories ranging from straight up rape, to sexual harassment, to being taken advantage of in their younger days, something that coincides with Mima’s change from her young Pop Idol days, into becoming an actress where she was coerced into exposing herself to forward her career.

So while all of this is extremely prevalent, and plays a huge role in the overall plot of the film, for me, my biggest takeaways with my first viewing of Perfect Blue came from the filmmaking itself, rather than the subtext of the story. While that may be the case, I am not just going to ignore the story, because it is a doozy… The plot synopsis stripped straight from iMDb reads;

A retired pop singer turned actress’ sense of reality is shaken when she is stalked by an obsessed fan and seemingly a ghost of her past. — iMDb

While this is an accurate description of the plot of Perfect Blue, I think to say it is a bit vague. Obviously, this is done for those reading up on films without having seen them first, but good lord, this is so much more than that. First off, Mima has launched to the top of my list of favorite horror/thriller heroines. The voicework from Junko Iwao is superb and to me, really helped give life to the character as the feeling of her slowly deteriorating psyche can be heard in her voice throughout the film. This deterioation of her mind is echoed in the film’s editing, but we’ll talk about that in a bit.

Gif from Perfect Blue (1997)

Some quick notes that I could not find a natural way to bring up in this discussion are below. Also, feel free to comment on this story with some aspects of the film that stuck with you after the first time you watched Perfect Blue!

  • Me-Mania being a personification of the “Angel of Love” that Cham! sing about in their song throughout the movie, with him being a stand-in for the Angel of Death through his “love” for Mima, was something I picked up on after the murder of the screenwriter.
  • The visions Mima sees throughout the film after her rape scene are of her pop-star self, and at first, are only through mirrors and windows serving as her reflecting on her past as she forces herself to move onto the future.
  • During the film, there is a nightmare sequence where we see Mima being hit by the truck only for the climax to end with Rumi and her almost being hit by a truck serving as a payoff in a really satisfying manner.
  • The scene in which “Mima” murders the photographer has these rapid fire cuts of her nude shoot (done with the photographer) layered over top of the images of her killing him being a strong representation of the Soviet Montage movement.

But what makes Perfect Blue stand the test of time? What makes it Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece, and such a memorable piece of not only anime, but cinema as a whole? For me, that answer comes in the form of one sequence…

UNFORTUNATELY I COULD NOT FIND A FULL CLIP OF THE SEQUENCE AT HAND, THOUGH HOPEFULLY YOU ALL KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT SO I DO NOT SEEM LIKE A CRAZY PERSON SCREAMING AT THE SKY!

The sequence at hand has a lot to discuss, but the main point I want to get across before getting into the weeds here, is that this broke me the first time I saw it. When people talk about how films like Inception or AKIRA blew their mind, this for me, is right up there with them. The editing and directing on display here are just masterful, my words will never be able to do them justice, and while I am perfectly okay with that, maybe through sharing my admiration for them (and the film as a whole), I can get across my point as to why this sequence elevated the entire film for me.

To begin with, I should say that something caught my eye early on in the film, that taught me to watch closely for clever editing techniques, that being the transition from Mima entering her apartment for the first time, with the film cutting on the action of her opening the door to her exiting the arena of the Cham! performance. It is not clear at first that there was a cut to a different time and place, but that changes quickly, as the creepy security guard from the venue’s arm can be seen next to the door, which in turn had me thinking he was in her apartment before it was revealed to be the exit of the venue. This quick trick got me. It got me real good, and from there on, I kept being impressed by just how great the directing and editing were working hand in hand over the course of the entire film. I already mentioned the sequence that this is meant to be about though, so let me stop rambling and get on with it.

Much later in the film, we get to a point where Mima is doing another scene for Double Bind, out in the rain when things get a bit off. She messes up her lines after catching a glimpse of her stalker, with the film then transitioning into a scene with the now duo, Cham! doing their radio show as Mima comes to visit. Through the glass of the recording studio, she has another vision of her “ghost” and runs off in a hurry to chase after her, which ends in the aforementioned truck accident, before Mima wakes up for the first time during this sequence. From there, things just get more bizarre and harder to properly discuss as the entirety of this sequence sort of becomes a blur as we go from Mima performing a scene and then be back to waking up, to having dinner in her apartment with Rumi, before then transitioning back into her scene while continuing to speak her conversation with Rumi, and thus ruining the scene while also confusing all of her peers. This continues on for quite a while, getting even crazier (somehow), with Mima now moonlighting as a pizza delivery boy, only to brutally murder (putting it lightly) the photographer that seemingly took advantage of her with the nude photoshoot after her rape scene on Double Bind. And then… then it happened. This sequence goes from absolutely nuts, to just being almost indescribable. We get another wake-up, this time revealing Mima being interviewed by detectives, which are the actual detectives from Double Bind, who discuss that she was suffering from dissociative identity disorder, and that she was not actually a pop star or actress, going further to add that she had been on the loose as a serial killer. As if this whole shebang could not get more intense, that is also revealed to be a fake out (though I am sure others have done proper analysis on this film, making arguments about this being the true ending and explanation behind the whole film), transitioning out of that to reveal that it was just a nightmare she was having. Obviously, the biggest reveal of the film is saved for the actual climax, in which it is revealed that Rumi is behind everything, after her failure to transition from Pop Idol to something more meaningful seemingly drove her into a craze as she tried her best to protect Mima, before realizing that Mima’s fame and superseding of the Pop Idol persona was out of her control, leading to the inciting of Me-Mania, which in and of itself, is just another mindblower after this crazed sequence. Man, this film is the definition of insanity.

Gif from Perfect Blue (1997)

It is a lot to take in. Through the insane editing and genuinely batshit crazy plot twists to keep up with during this sequence, Perfect Blue creates an utter sense of madness that will leave even the most seasoned veterans of psychological thriller/horror films scratching their head. While balancing great animation, both a thrilling and terrifying story, Satoshi Kon uses a combination of strong direction and impeccable editing over the course of the film to act as a sort-of set up to the ultimate payoff of this unforgettable sequence, and in doing so, elevates the film to the level of a true masterpiece.

Gif from Perfect Blue (1997)

So yea, I absolutely adore Perfect Blue if you couldn’t tell from this whole thing! Thanks for checking out this article, and if you found my perspective and/or writing style at all enjoyable or interesting, be sure to check out some of my other work, and also be sure to follow me on social media to keep an eye out on what I’m up to! Here’s my review of Netflix’s Miss Americana from earlier this year (or just click on my profile link and check out what else I’ve got)!

My Social Media:

Twitter — https://twitter.com/patcoylesimmons

Letterboxd — https://letterboxd.com/Protacrastic/

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