If one is stepping foot into the world of anime for the first time, a name that may come up often amongst connoisseurs of anime films specifically is Satoshi Kon. While Kon doesn’t have a large collection of films under his belt, what he was able to produce before his untimely death of cancer in 2010 speaks volumes to people within the anime community and industry. Known for his distinct style of disorienting storytelling, his films are typically consumed with pleasure by fans of psychological or methodical thrillers.
Watching anime for a number of years, I’ve never experienced one of Kon’s films, nor have I been one to dabble in anime films in general. With my recent trek into the March of the Movies, I felt a desire to finally give Kon’s work a shot, knowing a fellow anime consumer is practically in love with his entire library. I was aware beforehand of the kind of reputation Kon had, though I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I finally decided on his directorial debut: Perfect Blue.
Among the first distinctions of Perfect Blue that struck deeply was how un-anime-like it felt in general. Characters were animated realistically, complete with noses, proportional eyes, and lips. Its setting allowed for an immediate hook for those looking for something more mature, with adult characters trying to find work within the entertainment industry. While the concept of “pop idols” are entirely of an anime (or Japanese) stigma, there’s very little that the film requires other than the bare minimum, allowing for short, controlled reactions and behavior from the cast. With hardly a thing jutting out to manipulate high-energy humor or drama, it requires the audience to pay careful attention to every movement, as it vows not to be taken lightly.
Due to this feeling of somberness, one can almost be bored by the first thirty minutes or so of Perfect Blue. One aspect of the film that can be simplified is its very gradual speed, choosing to let every possible introduction take place. Who the characters are, what they do. How the situation came to what it did. Where the characters’ priorities lie. Why all of this is important. It’s somewhat of a chore to try and take in every prerequisite that is shown before “the good part” begins. By that time, however, many may likely forget they were ever bored in the first place.
Once things begin to unwind, the real fun of Perfect Blue reveals itself. What’s even more admirable is the amount of foreshadowing leading up to that point—things that don’t even seem like foreshadowing. The symbolic nature of the build-up gives meaning to the characters involved and genuine disturbances within their positions. Mima, an aspiring actress after a semi-successful circuit of being a pop idol, must face constant self-scrutiny for the decisions she makes to further her career as an actress. For someone transitioning from something as sweet as a “pop idol” to a far more vile environment as acting, her gradual mental breakdown, while not heavily noted at the start, is an assuring detail to her character and morality. She, herself, along with those around her, act as the catalyst of these barrages of self-doubt and regret, eventually spiraling into a place where she (nor the audience) can truly comprehend what is real.
This climactic breakdown is the pinnacle of psychological thrillers, something that would make fans of anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion take notice. Even if one were to be indifferent to the characters or their struggles, the last twenty minutes of the film is a triumphant spectacle of Kon’s brand of directing. Allowing each little trinket of knowledge became something of an indisputable necessity, all leading up to an eruption of unwinding realities and scenes. A very strong ending almost single-handedly makes Perfect Blue recommendable, if not for the well-prepared journey to that point.
Though realistic in its presentation, animation isn’t quite the same spectacle as the story. Some shaky movement here and there isn’t entirely distracting, just the fact that it could’ve been altered more, particularly within the last twenty minutes, to further cement the feeling of dementia. There also exists a sort of graininess about Perfect Blue that makes it far less than a perfect blue. A sign of the times, one could say, though one could also say that it’s simply an indicator of the film’s realistic setting and tone. Despite the sudden vibrancy of the fantastical imagery of Mima’s idol half, there’s a sort of “dull” manner to the animation that could turn off viewers.
Another issue arises in that while the plot is intriguing and eventually becomes captivating, characters are not as wonderful. They do what they must for their role within its structure, leaving them to fester within the realism of their situation—distilling their core personalities. One could describe Mima outside of the mental fragility and one wouldn’t be entirely sure if it’s Mima. Characters simply react to what’s in front of them, picking and choosing their moments of propensity. That isn’t to say the characters are dull, rather none of them really stand out in a positive way based on who they are or what they cherish. Some become interesting based on what they eventually mean to the plot, though not of their own accord. Not everyone will take issue with this, but those who do will leave the experience without any strong emotional attachment.
At the end of the day, one’s pleasure surrounding Perfect Blue may very well come from whether or not they prefer its dominant genre. Execution is key here, with everything coming into focus just so they can direct to a horrifying conclusion. Kon’s mastery of this is on full display in his first project as director, though one could likely expect more out of his mind than what was shown here. Perhaps it should be noted that the film is an appetizer to the mind of Satoshi Kon, something that can be appreciated as time goes on.
Final Score: 7.5/10
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.