Original release: July 1997
Running time: 83 minutes
Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese
Director: Satoshi Kon
Writers: Sadayuki Murai, Yoshikazu Takeuchi
English dub voice cast: Bridget Hoffman, Wendee Lee, R. Martin Klein
I don’t know if there’s an area where cinema has been more insightful and revealing than elsewhere. I don’t know if any statement trying to answer this question has any chance of being fair or true – probably not. However, it’s hard not to notice the ease, with which cinema scrutinises itself in many profound ways. Countless aspects of the industry have been under its own microscope over the many decades, since cinema began. We can only applaud the fact that this industry – as opposed to other organisations, especially religious groups – has been very honest about its own dark side without the slightest hint of censorship or self-gratifying propaganda.
Perfect Blue, the animated feature that set off animator Satoshi Kon’s sadly short but fruitful career is one of these uncompromisingly honest films about stardom and celebrity. We see the story through the eyes of Mima Kirigoe (Bridget Hoffman), a young lead singer in the J-pop group called “CHAM!” – but her eyes become progressively unreliable as reality begins to mix with paranoia and delusion. Her troubles begin when she decides to leave the clean and highly controlled image of Japanese pop and move into acting. Mima almost immediately starts getting threatening messages, calling her a traitor, with an obsessive and very creepy stalker lurking around the corner.
As Perfect Blue was a product of the late 90s, Mima also gets her first computer and goes online. She becomes familiar with a fan website called “Mima’s Room” with regular entries of a fan-written public diary on her behalf. Mima becomes increasingly confused and anxious as the writer of the diary seems to know intimate details about her life, in fact, it seems that the mysterious author is capable of reading Mima’s mind at times.
There’s no turning back however, her career as an actress is well under way and the world of film turns out to be much grittier than singing and dancing on stage in pretty dresses. Against the advice of Rumi (Wendee Lee), her manager, Mima soon finds herself agreeing to do a rape scene and later goes on to do a nude photo shoot for a magazine. As she becomes less and less certain about what’s real and what isn’t, gruesome murders start to take the lives of people who are involved in Mima’s professional life. Meanwhile, “CHAM!” her former J-pop group is doing better than ever. But did the girls go on without Mima? Or is there a new singer who took her place?
Perfect Blue is one of those films that would be a sacrilege to spoil, so I’ve been carefully dancing around the specifics in case you haven’t seen it yet. Satoshi Kon’s dark and insightful vision penetrates the world of celebrity, masterfully visualising very disturbed states of mind derivative of fame, being famous, having been famous and that of the outsider obsessing with fame. The film is also remarkable in that it was released in 1997 when the internet was still in its infancy, yet already dealing with the concept of an online identity that’s separate from one’s own in an intelligently twisted way.
The brilliance of the source material, Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel of the same name, oozes out of the pores of Perfect Blue constantly, with its characters giving insight into psychiatric disorders in a very realistic manner. Upon watching the film, I decided to do a little bit of research and was shocked to find how Sabina Eriksson and her sister were caught on video in an inexplicable case of Folie à deux – a condition of shared psychosis that plays heavily into the plot. Stalking – more specifically erotomania – portrayed in the film mirrors the likes of John Hinckley, Jr. known for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan due to an obsession with Jodie Foster, and Margaret Mary Ray, who imagined she had a relationship with US talk show host David Letterman.
Perfect Blue is a priceless addition to the list of films that truly have great value especially when we consider how happy and shiny stardom looks from the outside. The image of success and fame continues to be a subject of desire for many, but the medium of cinema can’t be blamed for trying to hide the loneliness, anxiety, jealousy, fear, hatred and all else that’s waiting on the dark side of the spotlight.
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.