PERFECT BLUE | ANIME REVIEW & ANALYSIS
Updated: Jun 30
Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Anime Debut!
Director: Satoshi Kon
Cast/Voices: Junko Iwao, Rika Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, Masaaki Ôkura, Yôsuke Akimoto
Introducing Perfect Blue
Before his untimely passing in 2010, Satoshi Kon was the brightest shining star of the up-and-coming anime directors in Japan. Perfect Blue was his first feature film. Its impact skyrocketed his career to the top tier of the Japanese anime scene and beyond.
Initially, Perfect Blue was meant to become a live-action series, but the studio that was making it got damaged in the 1995 Kobe earthquake. This resulted in a reduced budget, which in turn transformed Perfect Blue into an anime feature project.
When it was handed over to Kon, he didn't think the original story (from the novel called «Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis» by Yoshikazu Takeuchi) would translate very well to anime. Kon was given the green light to change it as he pleased, with certain conditions, and thus the dawn of his short-lived anime invention was upon us.
Perfect Blue was the stepping-stone that let Kon develop his art and create timeless anime classics like Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Paprika (2006). His later films might be more accessible and refined, but few anime debuts stand the test of time like Perfect Blue.
A Tale of Paranoia and Obsession
The surreal story is about a young actress who is haunted by the demons of celebrity and fandom. The narrative takes inspiration from film noir. It kicks off when Mima - the star of a Japanese idol group - decides to shift her career and become an actor.
Her decision sets in motion a domino of consequences, which makes Mima slowly lose her grip on reality. Where do the idol-persona end and the actor-persona begin? Where is the true Mima in all this, and is the memory of her former self even relevant anymore?
«If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney, they’d make a picture like this.»
- Roger Corman -
Her new job as a supporting actor requires her to get down and dirty. It forces her to cast aside the innocent idol image. Dancing provocatively is one thing; doing nude photos and rape scenes in brutal movies is a new level of mental strain on her fragile mind.
Mima’s cocktail of madness is intensified by a stalker who has stolen her identity. On a webpage of his own design, he is speaking on her behalf. His words express disgust with the film industry, which she tries to break through. This sets in motion a string of murders. The people who have taken part in Mima’s fall from grace are savagely slain.
The Production of a Nightmare
The haunting atmosphere is in stark contrast to the sugarcoated design of various music venues, film sets, shopping streets, and tiny apartments in Tokyo. The switching between idol-group pop songs and a frightfully eerie score further strengthens this contrast.
The characters are profoundly deep (especially for a film lasting a mere 80 minutes), and the story is believable in as much as the dreamlike environment allows it. Both characters and the Tokyo landscape are beautifully drawn, even when depicting brutal murders and gloomy back alleys.
The film starts at a rather slow pace, but before long, you’ll feel as confused as you are mesmerized by the protagonist’s inner struggles. Only a few drops of clarification are offered when the movie Mima acts in breaks the 4th wall of Perfect Blue and explains part of Mima’s mental state to our face.
«The biggest surprise was that much of the staff working on the film
didn't know what kind of film it was until it was finished.»
- Satoshi Kon | Interview with Anime News Network -
While Kon was making Perfect Blue, he didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary, which possibly tells us more about him than anything else. Just imagine Perfect Blue as a reflection of your personal state of mind every day. Now that's a nightmare we can all be without, but perhaps that is what it feels like to Kon, an anime-innovating genius ...
Kon's production team didn't even understand what they were making before they saw the staff screening. What Kon had made on instinct ended up shocking his crew, about which he commented, «It was tough to establish any sort of value judgment concerning the film with the staff.»
In an interview with Gamestar from 2010, in relation to Perfect Blue, Kon said that the total separation of fiction and reality is unhealthy. But life is full of layers. Your truth might very well appear like dreams or fantasies to others. Kon wanted to explore these layers and interpret the different worldviews that affect people and their relationships with each other.
Reality & Fiction | Perfect Blue Analysis
Given that the last remark coincides with your own understanding of the film, it is interesting to consider the implications. If the movie within Perfect Blue is a reflection of Mima’s reality, it stands to reason that Perfect Blue tries to tell us something about our own reality, perhaps a comment on the life stories we act out every day, with both fake and real personas.
As such, the theme of Perfect Blue is in line with the rest of Kon’s filmography in the sense that it uses surrealism to explore the human condition. In this context, he explores the mental strain of inhabiting alternate personas, exemplified by the Japanese idol phenomenon.
Idol groups are bands (commonly) consisting of lip-synching teenage girls. Their main purpose is to look cute and dance slightly seductively in front of hordes of middle-aged men. Both the idol fans and the idols themselves are perfectly aware of the charade that is going on. A charade that Kon juxtaposes with Internet personalities, job personalities, actor personalities, and the media’s ability to distort the lines between dreams and reality.
Fake personas are everywhere and all around us. It is the (white) lies we tell when choosing to withhold certain sides of ourselves or boost the more accessible sides in other situations. Who is to say when the persona takes hold and becomes more you than the original version you started with?
Mima is not the only one who shows signs of a split personality. Also, her stalker and her agent are clearly changing faces in different situations. Her agent hides the truth about Mima’s manic fans in the guise of a caring mother figure. Likewise, the stalker puts on a protective mask when people are defiling the image of his most precious fascination.
«Pop music, teenage idols, violent murders, and ruthless violations;
Perfect Blue is the potpourri from which nightmares are made of.»
- JCA -
Again, this makes for some interesting food for thought. As the pop-idol persona comes to life through the stalker's identity theft, the fake Mima soon becomes more real to her fans than the real person. No one wants to see the new her in the «real» world of acting; everyone wants the fake idol version.
In some sort of twisted way, Kon manages to make the middle-aged fandom of teenage idol groups seem innocent. Considering the sordid morality of the film industry, provocative dancing doesn’t seem so bad, given that both «singers» and fans are willing participants in the ongoing charade.
The most terrifying aspect of Perfect Blue is the idea of getting lost in the darkest corner of your own mind. Mima’s journey down the rabbit hole becomes increasingly disturbing as her grip on reality starts to slip. In the end, we even start to question whether her agent and stalker are real or just figments of her imagination.
Perfect Parallels & Influence
Perfect Blue has been described as an anime version of Hitchcock. In this day and age, it is more fitting to compare the film with Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010). Aronofsky himself has acknowledged the commonalities and hailed Kon for his work.
Similarly to Aronofsky’s films, Perfect Blue perfectly manages to transfer the character’s confusion to its audience. Mima constantly confuses dreams and reality. What is real or not isn’t revealed until the end of the film, and perhaps not even then …
For one, a lot of the sequences that appear to be happening to Mima in real life turn out to be nothing more than scenes from the film she is currently working on. This is a tool of confusion, which is applied over and over, and never loses its appeal or effect. Like Mima, we all drift into a dreamlike state, only to catch small bits of reality along the way.
Final Verdict for Perfect Blue
Compared to Kon’s later films, Perfect Blue is somewhat unrefined. It would have served the story well to develop the plot and characters even further. That being said, taking into account that Kon was given a scrapped movie script, which he transformed into anime magic, the attention it got seems appropriate.
Perfect Blue is the kind of film that is somewhat ruined after first viewing since much of its suspense lies in the unknown. On the other hand, it is more than layered enough to be interesting on repeated viewings. The density alone is the reason why this review started a more in-depth approach to our writing here at JCA.
Whether you dig surrealism or not, Perfect Blue is well worth tracking down. Kon-fans already have this in their collection, of course, but anyone interested in anime should give it a chance. Perfect Blue is one of a kind, strangely captivating, creepy as hell, and highly recommendable if you enjoy films that challenge your mind.
Anime News Network: Perfect Blue Review
Anime News Network: Satoshi Kon Interview
Beyond Ghibli: IDOL - The Terrifying Reality of Perfect Blue
Film Colossus: The Definitive Explanation of Perfect Blue
Gamestar: Interview with Satoshi Kon
Peach’s Almanac: Perfect Blue - Exploring Satoshi Kon’s Masterpiece
Satoshi Kon Wiki: Perfect Blue