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Perfect Blue (1997) [20th Anniversary Release]

The classic anime thriller Perfect Blue, directed by the late, great, Satoshi Kon, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and as such has garnered a limited cinema release in the UK.

Watching it again – having first seen it upon its original release and not for a while since – is a curious experience, but its strong core themes will mean it has resonance for the first-time viewer too.

Mima Kirigoe is lead singer of Cham, a sort of Japanese bargain-basement Bananarama who play afternoon gigs to concrete auditoriums full of young men in local shopping centres, and whose sub-Stock/Aitken/Waterman bubblegum pop tunes conspicuously fail to chart.

With such a glittering career, and living as she does in a cramped one bedroom flat in a dismal tower block, doing her own grocery shopping and laundry, hanging her clothes on wire hangers and talking to her pet fish, it is hardly surprising that Mima decides to abandon the glamorous “Pop Idol” lifestyle and take a part in a TV crime drama, Double Bind.

Then the ‘fun’ begins. These are the early days of the internet – “it’s getting quite popular”, trills her manager, Rumi Hadaka, once a pop idol herself, now gone badly to seed – and shortly after logging on for the first time, Mima discovers she has a creepy cyber-stalker who is assembling a chillingly-accurate diary of her every move, thought and shopping choice (‘Cow Brand Milk’).

Rumi advises Mima to ignore the diary, but the appearance of a buck-toothed, shambling fan who appears to be stalking her piles the pressure on our former pop-star.

Things begin to slowly spiral out of control for Mima when she is cast as the victim of a graphic gang-rape in Double Bind, a role she feels she has to take in order to establish herself as an actress, but which appears to traumatise both her and Rumi.

Soon, the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur until neither she – nor we – know which is which, and when the real murders pile on the fictional ones, things start to get serious.  

Despite the gulf in technology between then and now – the internet-in-embryo, fax machines, huge phones – Perfect Blue has resonance in our Age of the Selfie, and makes for an at-times uncomfortable watch.

Violence, stalking, soft-core porn, rape, mental illness and grisly murder; these are the stock-in-trade of Perfect Blue, which walks a fine line around stereotyping many of its characters, not always very successfully. As such, many of them are ciphers, code – as is so often the way in anime – for some of the more negative aspects of modern Japanese society.

Nonetheless, the movie felt quite prescient in 1997 and the development of Western (and Japanese) society since has only sharpened its main talking points: identity-confusion, the commodification of the person and the complex pressures of modern technology-dominated society. 

There are some neat directorial flourishes in Perfect Blue which support its central theme, with the action often flicking between fiction and ‘reality’, hallucinations and mirror-images-which-aren’t, though the use of sophisticated CGI-assists in most feature-length anime these days have left it looking a little dated, visually.

In this era of Fake News, internet memes, Instagram-celebrity and some very dark televisual and cinematic explorations of the complex relationship between stardom and identity, Perfect Blue does not have quite the edge it once did, though the threats it alludes to are still a clear and present danger for today’s Mimas.

One for fans and anime devotees principally, Perfect Blue nonetheless stands as a milestone of the artform, a gritty and lurid illustration of how animation can do ‘serious’ too. If anyone ever tells you animation is “just for kids”, put on Perfect Blue and get ironing your ‘Told You So’ t-shirt.

FORMATS UK Cinemas, Oct 27 & Oct 31,
Blu-ray, and DVD
FROM  Anime Limited
 18 [UK]
1hr 21m [Movie]

*Screening provided by Anime Limited