I have always found it interesting how American and Japanese audiences differ so much when it comes to animation. In the U.S., Disney established a standard early on that influenced the future of American animation. Today, most Americans associate animation with family and kid friendly subject material. The few attempts toward adult American animation have not been met with commercial success (i.e. COOL WORLD, FRITZ THE CAT, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN). In Japan, on the other hand, audiences are far more accepting of their animation exploring all types of genres and they don’t seem to care whether the material is for children or adults. They view animation as just another form of filmmaking that’s perfectly acceptable in telling the same kind of stories as live-action movies. PERFECT BLUE is a feature-length psychological thriller anime directed by the late Satoshi Kon (NOTE: He passed away a few weeks ago on August 24th). It is a violent and sexually explicit exploration of the dark side of pop stardom that ultimately is something to appreciate for what it strives to achieve, but its an altogether unmemorable film.

PERFECT BLUE is about Mima Kirigoe, a Japanese female pop star who forms part of a group called CHAM! Mima decides to expand her career and so she leaves her pop group to pursue acting. She gets hired on to be in a low-rent drama series called Double Bind. Some of her fans are not happy with Mima’s decision to leave her music career behind, especially one obsessive fan/stalker known as Me-Mania. Shortly after leaving CHAM!, Mima begins to receive cryptic, anonymous letters and faxes that call her a traitor. She discovers a website called “Mima’s Room” that has public diary entries that pass off as being written by her. Meanwhile, Mima’s acting career is beginning to succeed as she gets a larger and more adult role in Double Bind. However, this incenses her stalker even more because Mima is becoming less and less associated with her former pop idol image. Suddenly, the key players associated with Double Bind begin turning up dead and Mima starts to go a little crazy. She begins to confuse her manufactured pop star persona with her real identity that is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s style.

Its difficult making your audience connect with your main character when she’s a famous pop star. How many of us can even remotely fathom what it must be like to be in the shoes of a celebrity? Kon had a big challenge in getting his audience to feel the paranoia and loneliness that’s felt by Mima and I think he successfully pulls through. PERFECT BLUE is clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s classic films. Double personas and identities, paranoia, and voyeurism. Its all here and it works especially well set inside a metropolitan Japanese environment where the feeling of isolation and loneliness is enhanced and in turn enhances the aforementioned themes. Although Mima’s aspirations of wanting to be a successful actress instead of continuing her music career is a pretty shallow and unsympathetic motivation, you’re nevertheless drawn into Mima’s world. Kon succeeds in separating Mima from her fanbase, her handlers, and her family. In most shots of the film that contain Mima, you see her by herself and she has very little interaction with the rest of the world. Consequently, it is easier for the stalker to create a fake image of her to the rest of the world because she is basically separated from her world.

Another appealing aspect of PERFECT BLUE is seeing what the whole pop music phenomenon is like in Japan. Like their American counterparts, these young pop stars serve more as sexual objects to their male fans than as true artists who produce quality music. The film presents an almost funny contrast between the materialistic shallowness of CHAM!’s music and the terror Mima is undergoing. By the way, PERFECT BLUE got me wondering how much money these young pop stars make. Mima lives in a tiny apartment, which is unusual compared to the palatial houses American pop stars live in. I’m not sure whether Japanese pop singers really do make little money or the film decided to take creative liberty with what a pop singer’s lifestyle is like.

Although there are many elements of PERFECT BLUE that drew my attention and entertained me, the movie devolves into a typical thriller by the end. [SPOILERS AHEAD] I was hoping to see a movie that really delves into the world of a celebrity and obsessive fandom. I’m sure there are a few films that have dealt with this subject matter, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I was disappointed to see PERFECT BLUE contains a climax that is pretty much like every other thriller out there. We find out that the real killer is Mima’s personal assistant/handler and we see a chase and struggle between Mima and her crazy assistant. This reminded me of the SCREAM movies and every other thriller that contains a Scooby-Doo ending. A more satisfactory ending would have been to have Mima finally meet her demise at the hands of the stalker. Furthermore, I wish Kon had spent more time exploring the stalker’s world and how he came to become so obsessed with Mima. I found his character to be even more interesting than Mima and I wanted to see more of him.

PERFECT BLUE launched Kon’s career and it introduced his concept of blurring fantasy and reality. In this movie, Mima reaches a point where she is no longer able to tell the difference between fantasy (where she is still a pop star) and reality (where she is an actress). Kon uses a couple of interesting devices to confuse the audience into being able to tell whether what we’re seeing is fantasy or reality. A number of critics criticized this movie for being an animated film. They felt that it was better suited to be a live-action movie, but I believe the fantasy/realism mixing worked especially well in an animated format. Besides, the imagery of the pop singer and CHAM! works better visually in an animated form as well.

PERFECT BLUE was overall well received by critics and on the festival circuit. It served as a launching point for Kon’s career and its still cited as one of his best films and one of the best Japanese anime feature length films in a long time. I was impressed enough by the film to respect it for what it is. However, its not a movie that I will remember very much of in a few days time.