Perfect Blue (Pāfekuto Burū) 1997

Perfect Blue (Pāfekuto Burū) 1997

Not for kids, obviously.

As a side note, I found it surprising that here in Australia my DVD release (the uncut version) is rated MA rather than R, which would be more in line with the rest of the world.

Which I guess is meant to be a segue into a point about content – Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller featuring early internet culture and horror elements, a fair amount of gore and sexualised violence. There are other films out there that are more full-on but this is still a confronting adaptation*.

It’s also compelling on every level; from the intertwined elements of narrative, character, and sound to the visuals and the script and acting – I feel like it’s hyperbolic of me to say, but it’s probably a masterpiece.

I know that’s a loaded word but I can’t give everything I review here a rating of 3 or 4 stars, can I? 😀

So, preamble aside – I should mention the premise finally:

The film follows Mima Kirigoe, a member of a Japanese idol group, who retires from music to pursue an acting career. As she becomes a victim of stalking, gruesome murders begin to occur, and Mima starts to lose her grip on reality.

And that blurring of reality and fantasy when I first saw the film was so immersive, and I love it now too, even though I know what’s going on when it comes to those subsequent viewings.

I was definitely wrong in my prediction about who was responsible for the murders when I was younger. But if you’re quicker than me, you won’t need any second or third screenings to see all the clues, because they’re nice and clear and so the truth doesn’t seem like it comes from out of no-where. There’s no cheap, empty twist.

Lot

But I hope if you have never seen Perfect Blue that you still experience a bit of surprise at the ending.

And if you were inclined to watch this film more than once, I hope you also get a chance to focus on the mechanics. I won’t go deep into the production and story elements but I want to use just two classic examples, editing and camera/point of view, to discuss how effortlessly Perfect Blue establishes that feeling of unreality and positions the camera as an unreliable narrator.

[From here, I think it’s possible to see and/or infer spoilers, so tread with caution]

Editing first.

Onscreen, we are shown Mima as the following over the course of the story:

  • Idol turned actress/centrefold
  • A character on drama Double Bind
  • Blogger from ‘Mima’s Room’
  • Murderer

However, the intercutting between scenes, locations and roles is often done without viewer cues for time or space.

This is one way that Perfect Blue visually represents that blurring between real and unreal. And when the cutting-rhythm between picks up its pace to show Mima’s state of fear and disorientation, the same effect is cast onto the viewer too.

Here, I’m thinking especially of a long sequence in Mima’s room where she’s waking up over and over when the frequency of cut becomes fast as 2 to 3 seconds compared to maybe an average of 5 or 6 seconds elsewhere. Obviously, it’s not a strobe effect (not yet) but the audience doesn’t get a lot of time to interrogate what they see. Instead, you’re dragged along, just as unsure as Mima is about exactly what’s real.

On to camera!

Camera (and its role in creating point of view) when it comes to storytelling is clearly a very versatile tool.

But I want to focus on when it presents as ‘objective’ and ‘omniscient’ by nature of its ability to see and show things beyond what a main/point of view character perceives.

Again, as with the editing** what I’m always thrilled to notice here is how unreliably the camera operates in the film.

Kon takes advantage of our assumptions. Firstly, if we are shown something on screen that Mimi is not aware of then it is true. This is definitely a feint but it’s aided by the storyline and the idea that the camera is objective – the idea that it shows us, the audience, truth.

We see what Mima cannot see/remember, even if Mima is not involved in events because we need that extra information to think that we’re ‘ahead’ of Mima, that we might know who the killer is and why they kill.

Secondly, we assume that we’re generally riding along in Mima’s point of view during the film. This is another natural assumption. It’s her story, her struggle, and we spend the most amount of time watching her, invested in her life. When the narration moves beyond Mima and her immediate surrounds, it’s almost always to show how other folks are interested in Mima.

These assumptions help the camera to operate in that sly way of the unreliable narrator.

In a movie asking us ‘what is real?’, the scenes it chooses to show us are often clothed in Mima.

When we witness Mima murdering the sleazy photographer and right after see her inability to recall how bloody clothes appeared in her wardrobe, we accept that what we’ve seen is truth. After all, Mima has been having trouble keeping track of reality and we know she deeply resented filming the rape scene at the club. Of course Mima is somehow involved in the murder! And yet… just because the camera showed us something from ‘her point of view’, doesn’t mean we must accept any of that at face value.

I hope I was able to explain what I saw in those elements, as it stands that’s probably giving a bit much away re: spoilers, if you’ve never watched the film. If you have seen Perfect Blue, then you doubtless know what I’m talking about there.

Okay, so moving on from production and story elements now, I want to write about one of the major themes, and also quote Kon’s related remarks.

The exploitation of pop idols is one theme that runs through the movie but perhaps not in a didactic way – at least, not via dialogue. Perfect Blue is still a psychological thriller rather than being a drama or documentary, but the entertainment industry and related obsessions are key to everything that happens.

I suppose you could argue that putting a naive singer through such horrors is in and of itself a heavy-handed comment on the industry but it doesn’t strike me as a lie either. Pop idols (world-wide, not just in Japan) are certainly regularly exploited. (Here’s a much better article on the film and topic).

And Horror can not only function to illuminate the evil that humans are responsible for, but become cautionary too. For me, the story of Perfect Blue has that effect.

Getting back to my opening comment, I want to repeat the idea that this film isn’t for kids. Sexual violence is a significant part of the plot. It’s used as a weapon by the entertainment industry, almost as a way to tarnish Mima’s reputation and inflict self-loathing and doubt (and thus, presumably, later make her much easier for the industry to control).

In fact, the writing of the rape scene into Double Bind isn’t really considered a decision worth involving Mima in, the scriptwriter and director are more worried about her agency’s reaction.

The same violence is also both a threat (and action) from a certain character and shot in such a way that definitely evokes terror. (And so if you know that’s something you don’t want to see then skip Perfect Blue.

Satoshi Kon himself seems to be of two minds about the club scene from Double Bind especially. The special features on my disc include interviews and lectures and in one part, he is looking back on the film from years later, which I found very interesting:

“At the time, it was supposed to be an OVA. We didn’t know it was to be released in theaters. So we thought we had to make it stand out as much as possible. OVAs don’t get a lot of publicity. So I thought we should have a graphic scene, but I went too far.”

and

“But this scene was too graphic. When I saw this blown up on a threater-size screen, I ended up looking down.”

These quotes make me wonder exactly how much pressure the industry and OVA-era forms put on creators, as well as performers? Is Kon suggesting that he might have made a different version of the same story if he directed it during a different time, after becoming so well-known?

Impossible to know, of course.

Now, I can’t miss an opportunity to mention Darren Aronofsky.

You might know his films, two of which are Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. In the same interview/lectures I mention above, Kon mentions that Aronofsky wanted to remake Perfect Blue and you can see here a famous homage(?) from Requiem for a Dream and if you are familiar with the premise and tone of Perfect Blue then you’ll be right at home with Black Swan.

I’m not as well-read on this issue as others out there but Kon didn’t seem to be too impressed himself.

And finally now, I should mention that nostalgia plays a roll in how much I enjoy Perfect Blue. Both for a time when the internet was young and for something I first saw long ago. (In terms of the technology aging, I think it’d be fun to update things with today’s technology if this film were ever remade).

To my eye, pretty much everything looks top notch from Madhouse in terms of the animation and backgrounds etc but if you’ve been raised on modern, bright anime then the colours here may feel a little dull (which adds to the realism of course).

I don’t want to forget mentioning Masahiro Ikumi’s disturbing score, which will probably echo in your head for a while after watching the film – especially Virtual Mima. Some parts evoke a real clash of analogue and digital and it’s all drenched in tension 😀

This has turned into one of the longer reviews I’ve written for quite a while and so I think it’s time to wrap things up, otherwise it’ll never end.

I think this might be Kon’s best film although my favourite of his is probably still Paprika, but if you’re seeking something equal parts confronting and compelling, then Perfect Blue is probably worth seeing at least once.

5 Stars

*Pāfekuto Burū: Kanzen Hentai as written by Yoshikazu Takeuchi.

**Costume plays a really big role here too.

There are

WordPress is (for whatever reason) not letting me add captions to the images but I want to note a couple of things – the ‘anime billboard/poster’ is funny and I noticed that like in many other films from Satoshi Kon, film-making itself is once again referenced in the story.

The recurring reflection motif is sometimes very ‘upfront’ like in the first image, and other times a little more subtle like in the image two above.

The amount of clutter in a lot of the rooms really adds to the sense of claustrophobia that develops in some scenes.

I also eventually noticed just how often the camera shows us Mima from behind, hiding her face and expression, maybe obscuring her relationship to the Mimi who torments her?

Thanks again to everyone who voted for this one back here 🙂

Popular Reviews from the Last 6 Months

This is a post where, as suggested, I highlight some reviews that have been popular in the previous 6 months. (Last time around I also did a post that was more like just my favs from each month but I’m a bit busy at the moment :D).

Below can be found those posts that got the most traffic – though I may or may not have done the best job in expressing myself in them.

(Once again, I’m still not ready with my ‘Prefect Blue’ review but I’m making tiny strides!)

December – Sword in the Stone

January – Nadia vs Atlantis

February – Update (+ Guessing Game)

March – Trigun (The Gung-Ho Guns Arc)

April – Karakuri Circus

May – Ergo Proxy (Collaboration) :)

I was interested to see that my Nadia v Atlantis post still gets some attention and that a Guessing Game post got in there too 😀

Thanks for reading!

Ashley

Something good to say about 5 anime I didn’t like that much…

Irina over at I drink and watch anime came up with a cool tag which I thought I’d try – I probably mentioned a few good things about these texts in my original reviews, but I’ll try add to that today 🙂

(The shows/films might be familiar, as I’ve listen them before.)

Fractale

I’ve said before that I thought the tone was wildly uneven in this series (among other things), but what I did enjoy was the unabashed adventure feel combined with airships – that’s always a plus for me.

My theory is that any kind of steampunk/airship aspects are going to please me thanks to JRPGs from the ’90s and so Fractale had enough of time spent flying around that I can definitely mention that as a plus.

Like the Clouds, Like the Wind

Maybe I’m being a bit hard on this one – in terms of the heading of this post – because I liked this plenty… but the ending was so rushed and compressed that I felt a little sad at the end.

On the other hand, this has a fair few stand-out character designs from Katsuya Kondō (familiar to Ghibli fans no doubt) and so watching it offered feelings of familiarity.

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

Ah, a space-race film with animation so good that it nearly sank Gainax before the studio took off.

I exaggerate a little I guess, but it is really grand – fluid and detailed, there are so many stunning sequences throughout. I love the assassination attempt or the race to Riquinni’s place to mention just two. (The world-building is pretty ace also).


Children of the Whales

The art style I liked a fair bit – and maybe the obvious work placed into developing how an isolated society might operate, though maybe the credit there goes to Abi Umeda’s manga?


I might add to this if I finish more anime that I don’t really enjoy – but for now, this is what I’ve got!

Seen any of these?

Mirai

Mirai (2018)

This film was kinda hard work.

It’s a family drama with a few fantastical elements but I felt mostly like I was locked inside the tantrum of one small boy for most* of the movie.

Having said that, there are a few wonderful forays into other places and times that expand the setting and add whimsy and also pack emotional weight as well… but for too much of the running time I found myself sitting through scenes of Kun’s jealous whining. (And yeah, he is just a little kid struggling with change, as is the whole family, but I didn’t enjoy it much).

Elsewhere the gender stereotypes are perhaps a little dull and I didn’t finish the movie feeling particularly uplifted, which is something I’ve come to expect from Mamoru Hosoda films. (Having said that, quite obviously not every single film he or any other creator makes has to be uplifting at all.)

Mirai is still visually beautiful and I really enjoyed the variety in the sort of single setting of the home, but the highlights for me were the scenes where Kun meets and learns about his grandfather – I’d watch a whole anime about that in a flash.

Not my favourite Mamoru Hosoda film by any stretch but it certainly might be your thing.

2 Stars

(Cool to hear Tatsuro Yamashita in the opening though).

* Of course, I am exaggerating when I say ‘most’ but it was too much for me.

White Snake (Báishé: Yuánqǐ)

White Snake (Báishé: Yuánqǐ) 2019

As I’ve said before, my knowledge of animation from China is pretty limited but that didn’t stop me enjoying White Snake.

I do imagine that if I was familiar with the folktale the film draws from (Legend of the White Snake) I’d pick up a lot more subtext but I was never lost or confused because characters and motivations were clear and the same goes for the story.

Visually it’s beautiful I reckon; plenty of detail and space – and the vibrant colours that modern CGI is known for. I probably liked the settings and costuming as much as anything else, but there’s action and romance with a few surprises and some good villains too, and so White Snake is not just wonderful imagery.

Maybe for some folks the story might not be as complex as the animation with its ace action-sequences, some that are almost dizzying, but the romantic plot seemed to work really hard for the screentime.

Actually, let me phrase that better – I thought I’d finish the film thinking our two leads didn’t share enough scenes together but a feature film only has so much time to show us what’s important. And for me Blanca and Xuan probably did get enough time for the ending to work, if I think back.

So, maybe if you like costume dramas – but ones with perhaps more action than romance, and ones built around the mythical and supernatural – then White Snake should definitely satisfy.

4 Stars

Update Quest 2020 (9)

The ninth batch of these posts does include the first game I reviewed here, but I think at this point I’m still back in Sept of ’19 in terms of ‘catching up’.

Origin: Spirits of the Past
Ellcia
Big Fish & Begonia
Harmony
Hollow Knight (Switch)
Castlevania (TV Series)

Fairly sure I still have a few of these posts left too, based on what I remember as having only a few images/being in need of an update. Had a bit of trouble sourcing images from my Origins disc, hoping this won’t be a recurring problem though.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

To begin, I thought I should note that this is the Disney film where the team emotionally torments that poor chipmunk character, and also mention that The Sword in the Stone isn’t an exploration of the Arthurian legend.

That timeless Chip ‘n’ Dale chipmunk design

Instead, I think you can consider it more of a series of fun, loosely connected sequences put together to delight young children with colour and slapstick. Which is not a bad thing at all, and it was a film I watched over and over as a kid on my grandmother’s TV, so I have fond memories indeed!

And it’s always great to see Disney’s love of forests on display too, something I notice and compare each time I watch a Disney film. Most of Arthur’s transformations make for exciting scenes but as an adult, I could feel certain moments starting to drag a little, and others felt a little rushed compared to what I sought from a King Arthur/Merlin tale.

Feels like you could draw a neat link from this scene to ‘Finding Nemo’

One scene that sticks around a little long for me is obviously the squirrel one, whereas anything in the city tends to be a more rushed. Having Wart’s character voiced by three actors (including two brothers which was cool) made the variance between them quite stark, even too stark at times.

Overall, I don’t want to call The Sword in the Stone a bad film but there are enough better Disney ones to maybe seek out first. I still enjoyed the moat chase and the dueling magicians (when Merlin confronts Madam Mim) but I wasn’t enchanted this time around.

3 Stars 

Classic Dinsey to bring in the present to any historical story.

Amon Saga

Amon Saga (1986)

Amon Saga is classic sword and sorcery in anime form that is definitely up front about its influences – obviously via tropes common to the genre, but this revenge story might also bring to mind Schwarzenegger-era Conan too.

Elsewhere, there’s an interesting mix between what I think of as hints of Elric of Melniboné and ‘D’ from Vampire Hunter D.

And maybe that’s partly due to the character designs by Yoshitaka Amano?

The OVA also has a few exciting sequences and some memorable moments and characters (for me, it’s Alcan who almost steals the show) yet what I think what I enjoyed most was the visuals – especially the use of colour and shadow. Some older films, especially those that pre-date modern CGI techniques, spend a lot more time on composition, on shadow or colour, and while my screencaps probably don’t back up my claim, it’s definitely there.

I really enjoyed Amon Saga but it’s probably not one I’ll watch annually, despite the visuals.

There’s a lot to like there but the story didn’t match it, I think, whether because of what I thought was a bit of missing world-building or the sense that Amon rode off into the sunset simply ‘because’, or the fact that I didn’t really get to know him enough.

However, if you like retro anime, fantasy and adventure, then this is still going to satisfy on some levels at least, even if it probably won’t end up your new favourite.

3 Stars

Thanks to Josh for bringing this to my attention too 🙂

Not my best screencap effort here 😀
The transfer for my DVD seems a bit darker than it probably looked upon release.

Treasure Planet

I believe Treasure Planet was at one point among the most expensive animated films ever made, and while that obviously didn’t automatically make it brilliant, I think the movie is still pretty great.

Treasure Planet (2002)

Equally, it’s ‘under-performance’ box-office wise doesn’t automatically make it poor, either.

To me, this early 2000s era of Disney is kind of a push toward making animated films for somewhat older audiences. This one and Atlantis or even Hercules perhaps, seem to point to that (since-abandoned) trend, but most folks consider the time period as a slump for the company.

Still, tweaking Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island and transferring it into a sci-fi setting definitely let the artists showcase a new world and fun ideas (like the solar surfing) while at the same time holding onto a tried and true storyline.

For me, everything pretty much works great in the change from sea pirates to sky pirates.

There are a few aspects I didn’t love (like poor old Ben), but they were minor. One thing that stood out were the performances, especially Brian Murray as John Silver and David Hyde Pierce as Dr Doppler, though it was impossible not to hear Niles Crane the whole time 😀 (I was also thrilled to recognise Roscoe Lee Browne as Mr Arrow.)

While I’ve hinted at the maybe slightly older audience here, our hero Jim never crosses over into what could be called ‘cold-blooded, weapons-based violence’ – even to save himself. So that’s one reason for me to note that it’s still clearly a PG text, but that’s not a mark against the film either.

There’s a classic, adventure mix of action, suspense, mystery and exploration in Treasure Planet but above all for me, I think it’s the mentor/surrogate father figure relationship that keeps everything together.

4 Stars

This is what I always think of as the ‘One-Eyed Willie’ homage, just with bonus eyes of course.