Reviewby Tim Henderson, Aug 12th 2010
Pop culture is a dangerous place – stars are groomed, used, and used up. Young men and women have their heads pumped full of dreams, and they hope that they can be the one that lasts. But they likely won't be; audiences are too fickle, and the suits too keen to go on making money. Mima Kirigoe is such a character. Having worked for some time as one third of the under-the-radar pop threesome, CHAM, she's about to leave it all behind so that she can test her survival in the world of television action. It's a difficult choice for her, but not as difficult as it is for certain, obsessive others.
Perfect Blue is already a cult classic. It achieved that status not long after it hit the scene in 1998, and age has done little to get in the way. Its initial Australian release included a run in a handful of small cinemas, something that was unheard of at the time, and certain scenes caused confusion, perhaps even controversy among the newspaper reviewers who were unaccustomed to such material. Here was a dark, sophisticated psychological thriller hidden away in a medium that was still associated with cute critters and giant robots.
Times have changed however. No longer can Perfect Blue stand out by merit of being something different to what we were accustomed to at the turn of the century. Giant robots may not have gone away, but the sense of scope in regards to what anime can be has widened with the masses. Furthermore, director Satoshi Kon has gone on to experiment further with his distinct visual and communicative styles and ideas. Today's landscape is filled with peers.
But one doesn't need to be peerless in order to stand tall. One merely needs to be clever, confidant, and tightly-plotted. Perfect Blue's critique on Japanese pop culture – particularly the idol industry – packs no less punch today than it did a decade ago. In a way, it's changed, or more accurately, it's us that have changed – our world of Facebook, Wikipedia and iPhones is a world away from the earlyier days of Geocities homepages, and the Perfect Blue has inadvertently become re-framed as a fascinating look at over-obsession funneled through early Internet culture as a result of this.
It all kicks off not long past the beginning of the film, where we witness Mima Kirigoe use a small concert to announce her retirement from her pop outfit in accordance with a desire to pursue a career in acting. Fans are well-aware and informed, and some speak of how this makes sense from the financial perspective of Mima's agency. They are obsessives. Hissing at rumors and open fits persist as Mima is handed her last round of pop-idol fan letters, and one fan cries out that he's always looking at Mima's Room. Aside from a short moments confusion, Mima thinks nothing of it. Rather she does her shopping, goes home, and moves into the ritual of removing memorabilia of her low-level pop star life from prominent display.
Upon opening the letters, Mima finds one that provides a link to Mima's Room – a URL to a website that this computer illiterate girl has never before heard of. With the help of one of her agents, she gets online with her home computer – an apple machine that would have looked outdated even in 1998 – and visits the website.
What she discovers is a plot point that could have only existed in the late 90's. Although it will always remain an out-of-control beast that will never be fully tamed, the Internet of today is nonetheless less chaotic and more organised than it has ever been. Google is a primary search engine, and sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook provide a sense of grouped expression that never existed a decade ago. Personal shrines and dancing Jesus webpages are a thing of the past, and many celebrity personalities have either professional, official websites or Twitter accounts that either they, or chosen others, are able to update with ease.
Mima's Room is a contraption of the 90's through and through. An obsessive shrine of worship in place of being able to update a Wikipedia entry or post handy-cam footage on YouTube, the site documents the going-ons of Mima's life with disturbingly intricate (and accurate) detail, and is written in the style of an early blog. A naïve giggle soon turns into legitimate concern as Mima becomes chillingly aware that someone knows more than just a little too much about her. This is scary enough before this mysterious other Mima begins to split her personality. This is 1998. The Internet is already big, but its still not wholly mainstream. Mima has no official Twitter account to undo this stalker's website with. Mima's Room is a threat to her very person, and it's wholly alien.
As the narrative progresses, issues of obsessive fandom, unreasonable acting demands, and the vicarious glory of her former pop image tie with the drama series she's struggling with to shatter the solidity of her perception of reality – and through some clever editing, the viewer's as well. Mima's downward spiral is portrayed with deft empathy employed through the medium of film itself. Camera panning and the visually two-dimensional nature of an anime world allow for space, and occasionally time, to be toyed with until the point that Mima's issues aren't just understood, but also felt.
Such an attitude may help explain a noteworthy and controversial scene. Some will argue that it pushed things too far, but as a lesson of relating the creation of psychological degradation, it is a masterclass of confrontation. The whole film is. That's the point – we knew everything that we were going to be told before we went in, but like a celebrity who starts promoting charities with truer passion after a return trip to Africa, being confronted makes the knowledge more intimate, and much more powerful.
All of this is executed with K-ON!'s not-wholly-flattering illustration style. There is no attempt to create a world of impossible beauty, full of apartments that don't exist in reality. On the contrary, there's certain fascination to be found in how plain and drab Perfect Blue can look. The animation likewise won't be turning many heads. The budget was modest – the shell of the one for what was supposed to be a live action film (fun fact: a live action adaptation of the novel was eventually filmed, and it has frequently been reported to be vastly inferior to the animated original) – but it never over-reaches, and pulls off all of its tricks with sufficient competency.
Long-time fans of the film may be surprised at how much the relevance of this film has evolved, and there's certainly some rejoicing to be found in a much cleaner video transfer than the original Madman release (the blame for which, it should be noted, actually falls on Manga UK). However, while the film seems newer, and the DVD sleeve is attractive and robust, this is still a single-disc release.
Nonetheless, Perfect Blue remains a great movie, and it has been treated well here. With this release, Siren may have just done enough to lay their older, dustier image to rest.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
+ Intelligent script; fascinating reminder of how much celebrity fandom has evolved in only a decade
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