Since I enjoyed writing my review of Ghost in the Shell so much, I decided to review a few more anime films for the Cult Chops feature over on the LAMB. The next two reviews that I’ll be doing will be focused on films that have celebrated their 20th Anniversary this year, and which are both complete mindfucks. The first one I’ll be covering is the directorial debut of Satoshi Kon, and a major influence on the films of Darren Aronofsky, Perfect Blue.
The film focuses on Mima, a singer in an idol group, who has just left the group to start a career in acting, starting off in a lurid crime series (which has some similarities to the Hannibal Lecter stories). After she leaves the group, Mima receives hate mail calling her a traitor, in one case getting a letter bomb, and finds out about a website that claims to be written by her, which worries Mima due to the insane level of accurate detail the website goes into. After the show she’s cast in decides to give her a larger role as a rape victim, Mima becomes increasingly unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, even as she is being stalked by obsessive fan Me-Mania, and a series of murders takes place involving the creative personnel of the show. Now, I can’t really talk about the aspects of the film related to Japanese idol culture, I don’t know anywhere near enough about it to provide an analysis of the film in this area, although I’m sure an understanding of these elements would help create a greater appreciation for the film. What I will talk about though is how the film plays around with the notions of reality. Throughout the film, there are questions raised about whether the actions we see Mima doing are actually real, enforced by the writing and editing, having some scenes repeat themselves with slightly different dialogue, changing the voices of characters for a scene and sometimes having ‘cut’ yelled after a scene we’re sure is real, making it clear it was part of the TV show. This is a fascinating way of creating a sense of disorientating and makes you question everything you see alongside Mima, even to the point where Mima believes that things that were written about her on the internet forum actually happened to her. This does mean you’ll need to watch the film a few times to get a clearer understanding of everything, but once you see all the pieces fit together, the film becomes a much more rewarding experience. There is also some fascinating commentary in the film regarding the exploitation of women in the entertainment industry. As stated earlier, I can’t go into detail about the idol side of the film due to my lack of knowledge, but the TV elements are fascinating to watch. It shows how women are often treated in a very derogatory way, used as eye candy by writers and directors to create a sense of titillation, which is incredibly demeaning for the women. It also shows the trauma that can be experienced through the filming of rape scenes, the multiple takes needed, the sense of disorientation during filming and how the scenes were written and directed with very little consideration of Mima’s opinion (with the actor playing the rapist, alongside Mima’s agent, seeming to be the only person on set who cares for Mima’s well being), the filming of the rape scene becomes psychological torture for Mima, the worst aspect about it being that Mima feels like she needs to do it to advance her career, that she feels like she needs to be sexually exploited on film. This creates a greater deal of sympathy towards Mima and helps to build up the doubts about Mima’s psychology in the film, seeing it as the damage caused by the trauma of filming, which Kon uses to make you think that Mima is the killer. This is even before the brilliant twist ending, which I won’t spoil here, which helps to codify all these themes together.
The technical aspects of the film deserve to be mentioned. Being a Satoshi Kon film, the animation is excellent, doing a great job of putting you in the mindset of Mima, the character design in particular allowing for a great sense of unease whenever Me-Mania is on screen due to the creepy design, along with the music which creates a really unsettling feel. The best aspect of the film though is the editing. This is one of the best edited pieces of media I think I’ve ever seen. The use of match cuts is incredible, something I cannot do justice by writing about it, you need to see for yourself how good the editing of the film is. There’s a disorienting quality to the editing that helps put you in Mima’s mindset, creating doubt in your own mind regarding whether what you are seeing is real, something that very few films can pull off effectively.
Overall, Perfect Blue is an incredible feat of animation and an astounding directorial debut from the tragically departed Satoshi Kon. The writing, editing, animation and voice acting helps to create an incredibly intelligent, thought provoking and completely insane psychological thriller, the impact of which only intensifies through repeated viewings. It’s easy to see why this film became the influential work of art it has, particularly on the films of Darren Aronofsky, and I’d consider it to be required viewing for those looking to study the art of editing and how to craft an effective psychological thriller.
My Rating: 5/5