I’d like to start off by thanking Tony Zhou, creator of the wonderful YouTube series “Every Frame a Painting,” for bringing the work of Satoshi Kon to my attention (and if you haven’t seen Tony’s videos yet, you’re missing out). I’d already seen one of Satoshi’s films, Tokyo Godfathers, but I’ve never heard much about his other projects. When I heard that one of them was a precursor to Darren Aronofsky’s seminal film Black Swan, I knew I had to check it out for myself.
Released in 1998, Perfect Blue is an anime psychological thriller that tells the story of Mima Kirigoe, a talented pop idol singer. After she makes the big decision to pursue her acting career, Mima begins to lose herself in her first big role. Beyond a point, she begins to have trouble telling apart fiction and reality. And further complicating matters is the ever-present threat of a stalker, which throws an entirely different kind of psychosis into the already turbulent mix of Mima’s life.
As a protagonist, Mima seems to share a lot in common with Nina Sayers, the lead actress and ballerina from Black Swan. They’re both seemingly innocent young girls caught up in the rush of their biggest performance yet, all while in the grip of an ongoing break with reality. But Mima is more like a typical horror-genre hero, always outrunning and fighting against her demon. She’s also more naive about the world, having to be told in 1998 how to use a Web browser.
The rest of the voice acting was stellar, too. As a Cowboy Bebop fan, I was delighted to listen to Wendee Lee play Mima’s manager Rumi and Steve Blum (here credited as “David Lucas”) as a number of side characters. But the acting isn’t the key selling point about this movie. It’s the animation and the editing, for which Satoshi Kon and the good people at Madhouse deserve all the credit. It’s how the story rises and falls around a series of cuts and transitions, creating an almost-dreamlike state that fits Mima Kirigoe’s world all too well.
I love this one technique where the director uses mirrored gestures to cut from one scene to the next. As in, Mima will be waving her hand a certain way while she’s shopping for groceries, and then we cut to her doing the exact same motion while performing onstage. It’s a small thing, but in visual storytelling, it’s brilliant. It gives the editor a cue for how to jump from one scene to the next. Like Mima, we’re losing our sense of which moment is “real” and which isn’t. We’re sharing in her torment through our own shared delusion: cinema.
Overall, the film is pretty amazing from a stylistic point of view. It works as both the story of a young women caught in the madness of stardom, and as a critique of the way we treat pop idols and promote fanservice (Me-Mania the stalker being a good example of the Madonna-whore complex and all that). I wouldn’t usually be into a film like this, but Satoshi Kon’s motifs are too good to pass up, and if you’re into what animated film can be, give this one a look.
The English dub of Perfect Blue was produced through Rex Entertainment, which is no longer active. DVDs, Blu-Ray, and other copies of the film can be purchased through retailers like Amazon. You can also see Tony Zhou’s video on Satoshi Kon for yourself.
Bibliography: Perfect Blue (film). Directed by Satoshi Kon. Produced by Hitomi Nakagaki, Yoshihisa Ishihara, Yutaka Togo, Masao Maruyama, and Hiroaki Inoue. Written by Sadayuki Murai. Based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Perf. Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, and Masaaki Okura. Madhouse (studio). Rex Entertainment (distributor). Original release date (Japan): February 28, 1998.