Perfect Blue (1997)
Directed by Satoshi Kon

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * ½

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Satoshi Kon's animated movie Perfect Blue tells the story of Mima, a young singer who retires from the pop group to which she belongs in order to become an actress. Soon afterwards, it becomes apparent that someone is stalking her, and Mima grows increasingly confused about what is real and what is not.

Perfect Blue often appears to be developing into a fascinating film, but, burdened by a number of clichés, obvious red herrings, and a contrived ending that makes absolutely no sense, it ultimately falters.

The director's treatment of Mima's hallucinatory experiences is well handled, and by incorporating irrational elements into the structure of the film itself he does produce a sense of confusion. The viewer is consequently able to feel the frustration, helplessness, and bafflement of a person who is increasingly disconnected from reality. At one point, for example, the character Mima plays in the television drama in which she has been given a role is shown as confusing herself with Mima the actress and former pop idol playing that character. In this and other scenes, Mima's confusion thus weaves itself into the film's narrative so that it takes on the same sort of irrational fluidity she herself is shown as experiencing.

This mutability is by no mean arbitrary, however. It reflects the events of the central narrative and the mental states of the main character, such as the feelings of guilt Mima experiences after she has been made to give up her virginal image as a pop star for her acting role. When filming a rape scene in the drama in which she appears, for example, Mima is so troubled by the scene that she becomes confused as to whether it is merely being acted or actually is a rape. Her two personalities, that of the innocent pop star and that of the "slutty" actress, increasingly separate from one another and begin to clash. "Slutty" Mima even imagines interacting with a vision of her innocent pop star self.

All these elements are interestingly executed, and, as a depiction of Mima's deteriorating psychological state, Perfect Blue works well through much of its duration. Near the end, however, the film presents the means by which Mima's situation is to be resolved and manages to undo everything that has been accomplished prior to that moment. In fact, this resolution reduces virtually the whole of the movie to nonsense. We learn that Mima is perfectly sane and has been the victim of a hoax. Although this resolution negates the possibility that Mima could have had the previously depicted hallucinations and experiences of confusion produced by a deteriorating psychological state, no explanation is ever given for these occurrences.

Despite the presence of such faults, Perfect Blue does, nevertheless, contain a number of captivating themes. One of the most intriguing of these is the film's presentation of people's perceptions of celebrities. The director shows, for instance, how Mima is idolized by her fans, who expect her to be as virginal in life as is her image, and how they are angered when she fails to live up to those expectations. Mima herself is depicted as also being affected by these perceptions and as being, perhaps, even more troubled than are others by the disjunction of her image from her actual lived experiences. Such elements provide fascinating and compelling reasons for Mima's deteriorating mental condition and are nicely handled by the director.

Finally, I should add that the animation of Perfect Blue is decent. I personally did not find the character designs appealing, but they are competently done. Unfortunately, some of the backgrounds, although often elaborately drawn, are static and do detract from the beauty of the animation.

Perfect Blue is ultimately a failure, but it is an interesting film. The reflections on popular expectations of celebrities, and on how a given celebrity can ingest those expectations and be affected by them, are well presented. The depictions of Mima's resulting madness, before it is undermined, are also interesting. Sadly, the director has opted for a hackneyed ending that reduces the entire film to nonsense.

Review by Keith Allen

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