Anime Week – Perfect Blue

Before I start – I am now pretty certain this event will take a fair bit longer than a week due to non-ThingsFallApart commitments, so bear with me.  However, let us get started, with a bit of a classic.

In my preamble to this little exploration into anime, I talked

about “Akira”, and how it was the anime that pretty much anyone of my generation would be familiar with.  To my mind, “Perfect Blue“, is the other anime of that era.  Shockingly, I had not seen it for nearly a decade, and I had forgotten just how good it was.

Mima is a young Japanese woman, part of a 3 Girl singing group.  They don’t seem to be terribly successful, but they do have a legion of (almost all male) fans.  Mima decides to leave the band, and pursue a career in acting.  Encouraged by her agent, and to a lesser extent her personal assistant (an ex-idol herself), she starts small, but her star rises as she allows herself to take on very adult roles (including a rape scene and some explicit photography).  This rises the ire of an obsessed stalker, who takes it upon himself to save her career… except there may be another manipulating him.

This is celebrated anime director Satoshi Kon’s first full length feature and to be fair, the early part of the film is a little less polished than the latter half.  However, the style that he would bring to his other films (at least one of which is going to feature right here) is already obvious.  Sadly he passed away a few months ago, but I think this film will be the one he actually will be remembered for the most.

When you read reviews of this film, you will almost certainly come across the term “Hitchcockian”.  This puzzles me, as I actually find it quite different to a Hitchcock film (except maybe his final film, “Frenzy“).  I think they are probably referring to some of the ideas of madness and obsession that you’ll find in “Vertigo” and possibly “Spellbound”, but stylistically I am not convinced.  What I do see is a huge Giallo influence.   This is a very adult and mature tale (and therefore quite unlike the vast majority of Western Animation I had been exposed to at the stage in my life when I first saw this). 

This is not a bad thing, but “Perfect Blue” is both explicit and in terms of storytelling quite complex.  There are dream and fantasy sequences, that would not look out of place in a live action film.  In fact this is the common complaint – “why is this an animation?”.  The answer is simple – the film is based on a Novel, but the Kobe Earthquake affected the ability to fund a live action film, so the producers turned to a cheaper anime.

It is certainly not a film for kids.  It is very graphic in its depiction of sexual violence (plus violence in general) and its occasionally non-linear progress makes it a challenging watch.  There is a cut-version available, but as always, I find this misses the point somewhat.  The animation is of a pretty high standard, and it does not fall into those tropes of anime which I find off putting.

I watched it last week and was also surprised how well the film still stands up in terms of it’s subject matter.  The nascent use of the Internet to follow celebrity, the Stalker phenomenon, the need for young idols to become on-screen adults all all issues as valid today as they were was then.  Only maybe the fans of the group all being Male is a little simplistic – what I know if the Japanese Idol culture is that obsessed fans come from both sides of the gender divide.

The film is not perfect – it maybe lacks a character or a sub-plot to pad out Mina’s life, and the depiction of the Stalker is a little too obvious.  But these really are nit-picks.

On the other hand there are loads of wonderful little moments, which reward those that revisit the film – whether they be visual (I am thinking of a scene on a train where things are played out in the reflection) or almost background incidents (where we find out that Mima’s old group actually are doing much better as a duo).

There IS a live action version available, but frankly it is a poor relation, whilst it does stay closer to the original novel, it has one tenth of the scope and class of this movie.  Highly Recommended

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