Perfect Blue (1997)

Director: Satoshi Kon
Genre: Animation, Thriller

Perfect Blue is an unnerving and gripping psychological thriller that transports the viewer directly into the disturbing mind of its protagonist. The premise revolves around Mima Kirigoe, a J-pop idol who leaves her semi-successful girl group to become an actress. Her first role is in a crime series, portraying a rape victim, and forces her to lose the innocent image that she and her management had cultivated for herself as a singer. Unable to exert any agency in her career, she goes along with the controversial choices that her managers make for her. When she discovers that someone has been stalking her, the line between reality and imagination begins to blur as she starts to lose her mind to delusions. The brilliance in the film lies in how layered it is and how intertwined the different aspects to the film are. It is, all at once, a character study, a thriller, and a social commentary.

Mima goes through an identity crisis, struggling with self-doubt and her perception of who she was, who she wants to be, and who is actually is. She wants (or believes that she wants) so desperately to be the mature and sexually confident actress that she goes through increasingly edgier lengths to become that woman. Her loss of innocence is shown through a rape scene and a scene where she does a fully nude photoshoot, and Satoshi Kon’s daring use of violence and explicit nudity only serves to reinforce the theme emphatically. The further Mima goes in distancing herself from her singing career, the more she is haunted by her past. She begins to hallucinate herself dressed in her pop idol clothes and torments herself by reading online diary entires that claim to be written by Mima herself, which at first seem to be unsettlingly true but then depicts her as still being in her former girl group.

Her struggle with perception is reflected in her loss of reality. The film deceptively jumps between the crime series Mima is filming and what seemingly is her real life seamlessly but without coherent transitions, mirroring her descent into madness. She is stuck in the labyrinth of her psyche with no way out and nothing to ground her to reality. Kon leaves differing, teasing clues along the way as to her reality, but ultimately provides no resolute answers to the viewer. We are left to construct our own interpretation in deciphering what actually transpires in the film – what events are figments of Mima’s delusions and what is physically real? Can we trust what the film tells us at all?

Perfect Blue makes the most out of its 81 minute runtime; every scene is meaningful and no sentence of dialogue is wasted. It is brilliantly paced, with the first two acts slowly building up the tension and suspense and the final act paying it off in a thrilling conclusion. The fact that the film is an anime makes it all the better; the animation gives it a dreamlike but oppressive and disconcerting atmosphere that is the perfect backdrop to a film about someone losing their mind. Probably my favourite anime film that I’ve seen so far.

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