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Animation Features Movies

Perfect Blue (Pafekuto Buru, パーフェクトブルー)

Director – Satoshi Kon – 1997 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 81m

*****

Multi-layered, identity crisis psycho thriller redefines the boundaries of animation, Japanese or otherwise – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

During a gig by girl pop trio CHAM, one of its three singers Mima announces her decision to quit the band. Her intention to pursue an acting career is a move designed to both help her escape the inevitable waning popularity of the pop idol and make the public take her more seriously than they would the innocent girl they perceive her pop idol / persona to be.

Her agent, a former pop idol herself, expresses concern when Mima is first required to play a rape scene in her new daytime TV soap Double Bind and second to pose nude for a photographer. But there’s worse to come for Mima as an internet fan page starts to chronicle an idealised version of her life and a series of bloody corpses start piling up in her wake.

Although it plays like an Argento or De Palma Hitchcockian thriller, Perfect Blue is in fact a cel animated, subtitled Japanese affair that once and for all kills off widespread misconceptions about animation – it’s neither for kids, nor cute, nor simplistic. Instead, it’s a multi-layered masterwork that demands mainstream attention, a rare film which plays differently each time the viewer sees it depending on which protagonist s/he aligns her/himself with – Mima herself, her reflection, her agent, her manager, the watchful fanboy stalker cum guardian angel, and so on.

As per much anime, the style is less the full animation familiar from traditional Disney cartoon production values than the Japanese hold‑employing, movement‑used‑only‑where‑necessary style. Much of the budget has clearly gone on shots involving reflections in glass and mirrors (shades of Janet Leigh in Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) which construct an eerie, looking glass world inhabited by Mima’s ghostly doppelgänger that forms the piece’s emotional core.

Despite its Japanese-ness – one dreads to think what a dubbed version would lose in terms of atmosphere – Perfect Blue totally transcends the boundaries of the culture of its conception. Towards the end, as the traumatised singer flees along high-rise balconies from her virtual other half who skips gaily through the air in impossible pursuit, the nightmare has completely taken hold of the viewer’s senses. Occasionally a little too disorientating for its own good, this is groundbreaking stuff nonetheless: you’re unlikely to find a better thriller anywhere in London.

Review originally written for What’s On In London at the time of the film’s 1998 UK theatrical release.

Perfect Blue plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank. The film’s director Satoshi Kon previously wrote the Magnetic Rose segment of Memories (Koji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, Katsuhiro Otomo, 1995), also in the season, which additionally includes his later works Millennium Actress (2001), Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Paprika (2006).

Trailer (dubbed, Manga Entertainment, original UK release):

Trailer (2017 Anime Limited reissue):

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