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Perfect Blue (Japan, 1998)

With a couple hours to fill before the Tall Blacks vs Lebanon game began, I decided to watch this film. And blog about it too. It was in a stack of DVDs the Knifeman loaned me a few months back that I am ever-so-slowly working through. The director Satashi Kon died a few days ago, aged on 46, which was good impetus to finally see this animated film.

It’s been on my list for a long time. I’m fairly sure it came through the NZ Film Festival back in ’98, and it was one of the films I circled in the guide but didn’t go to see. It’s a psychological thriller that’s one part Alfred Hitchcock, one part Dario Argento, and one part Wes Craven – or their Eastern equivalents. It starts out as a fairly by-numbers suspense film, but then goes very weird indeed in the second half, finishing up with an intense final sequence that is carried off by its visual verve and commitment to its distinctive vision.

There’s some stuff in it that doesn’t entirely sit well with me – the film was too keen to show us the lead character naked and exploited, so much that the in-story protests about how this was gratuitous and demeaning seemed both too much and too little. One line of plot in the film is about an actress working her way to greater prominence by using her body and performing in scenes involving sexual violence, but as the story fractures around questions of reality and fantasy it becomes impossible to find any resolution for this thematic question. Not as well-handled as I’d like, and raises questions it can’t quite resolve.

It’s a great ride though, with some amazing flourishes. There’s a funny scene that precisely dates the film where the main character struggles to understand the internet and the web; this scene played out in a lot of TV and film in ’97-’98 as I recall. How far we have come…

Overall: it’s a good watch, if not quite as cerebral and intense as I’d been building up in my head for the last decade. Contains nudity and violence, so not for family viewing or casual night, but if the suspense/psychological stuff like in Shutter Island works for you, this will be a good time. Thumb goes up.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Andrew (Bartok) | September 1, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Oh trust me, many out there *still* struggle to understand the Internet.

    Was it just me or was the final shot too cheesy and torpedoed the film somewhat? After everything that the main character goes through it ends looking like an episode of Astroboy.

  2. billy | September 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I rewatched this (and inflicted it a couple of flatmates) a few days ago in honour of the Kon. Didn’t make any more sense this time around, though after multiple viewings knifeman has an interesting theory about what was going on when it went weird, which I won’t relate as spoilerific.

  3. Pearce | September 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s been a while since I watched Perfect Blue, but I remember on (I think) my third viewing having a real “Aha!” moment and the whole thing suddenly making a lot more sense. But as Billy says, this is a massive spoiler.

    So, spoilers from here on in.

    For me, the aspects that you mention finding objectionable were actually some of the most interesting about the movie. It plays very heavily on reality and fantasy, moving between “real life”, fantasy and “reel life” deliberately without demarcating the various levels. By doing this it conflates the indignities that Mima is suffering through acting in scenes of sexual violence with the genuine suffering that her character is going through.

    Any movie with deliberate bleed into an internal narrative naturally encourages us to see the external world as, in a sense, part of the movie. Perfect Blue is an animated movie, so there actually is no external real-life equivalent to Mima. She doesn’t really exist – and this itself is crucial to the movie, which is asking which Mima is the “real” one.

    This is one of several ways in which the movie would not work nearly as well if it was life-action. Animation is fantasy almost by definition; it always creates a new world, and even if that world resembles the one we live in, it is not. Thus even the “real” Mima is a fantasy, even more so than if she were played by a live actor.

    There are at least five Mimas in the movie:

    * The “real” one
    * The idealised pop singer who keeps talking to her
    * The character in Double Bind
    * The split personality of the character in Double Bind
    * Rumi

    Rumi is crucial. She is the source of my “Aha!” moment, when I finally realised that in some scenes when we think we are looking at Mima, we are actually looking at Rumi “being” Mima.

    There may be even more Mimas. For example there’s the one imagined by Mr. Me-Mania (influenced by his communications with Rumi-as-Mima); there’s the one who only seems to exist in the interview that accompanies her nude photo shoot, whose speech patterns are very different from any other Mima; and of course there’s the “final” Mima at the very end, who’s come through everything and turned out to be a different person than she started as.

    Or has she? That final shot has been criticised by Andrew (Bartok) above, but I think he missed something important. Which Mima is it that’s speaking there? Is it a coincidence that we are looking at her in a mirror?

    “No, I’m the real thing.” What does that mean in the context of the movie, do you think?

    Anyway, Satoshi Kon continued to mine similar thematic ground in his later movies Millenium Actress and Paprika, both of which tone down the sex & violence to PG levels while actually turning the mind-fuck elements up (though Millenium Actress, despite moving between fanatsy, reality, past and present even more rapidly than Perfect Blue, is a lot easier to comprehend). He also made the charming comedy Tokyo Godfathers and the utterly mind-bending series Paranoia Agent.

    There is apparently one more Satoshi Kon movie that will be released posthumously.