Note: This review will contain adult language and subject matter.
Nineteen-ninety seven was a banner year for anime, not only on television but in theaters as well. It brought us the instant classic Princess Mononoke which for many would be the gateway for many Westerners to Studio Ghibli. Then there was a trifecta of mindfuck anime films, Evengelion: Death and Rebirth, End of Evangelion, and Perfect Blue.
Coincidentally all three of these films are out of print in the North American Market. Perfect Blue is available in an English friendly Blu-ray from the UK, however, but locked to Region B so unless you have a region free player, you are out of luck. Hopefully Perfect Blue’s status will change as GKids has the theatrical distribution rights for a new remaster of this anime classic. It is this remaster that has been making the rounds as either a Fathom event or in indie theaters.
Satoshi Kon made his directing debut with Perfect Blue. Despite its age, the film holds up as a suspenseful, disturbing, and surreal examination and critique of fame, especially how it is treated in Japan and specifically its idol culture.
Mima Kirigoe is the lead singer of a moderately successful idol group called Cham. Felling that there is no more for her in the idol scene, she decides to break away from the group and begin an acting career. Some of her fans aren’t particularly happy with this idea, especially a stalker who will later be identified as Me-Mania.
She starts off with a small part in a television psychological crime drama that as it unfolds eerily parallel things going on in her life. She also discovers a fan site on the Internet called Mima’s room. At first she finds it amusing but as she reads further it is evident that whoever is writing it is not only writing as her but knows too much of her personal and day-to-day life.
After the filming of a brutal and traumatizing rape scene, the world of reality and imagination begin to meld an unravel for her. Meanwhile, people around her have been suffering some brutal acts of retribution for perceived slights against Mima’s perfect wholesome idol persona. Is Mima losing her mind? And is it possible that Mima is doing these things herself and not remembering it? She is most certainly losing her grip on reality she sees her old idol personal at random. While surviving members of Cham are charting better after her leaving, she even sees herself in the sound booth while visiting them one day.
Along the course of the film, three journalists act as a kind of chorus commenting on the flighty nature of fans and what is in store for Mima.
Even after 20 years, the prescience of this film really holds up to scrutiny. The only things that seem to date it is the now nostalgic look at early Internet fans and technology. Back then URLs and learning to navigate to a homepage was all new. But in the end, it is not only commentary on Japanese fan culture but on obsessive fandom in general. It is an examination that is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. In this era of social media and the toxicity of fandom, Perfect Blue holds up as not a warning but a reflection of the horrible effects that fame has not only on the celebrities but the overly obsessive who think they own that celebrity.
It is a shame that this film is out of print in home media. But when someone put forth a question on GKids’ Facebook page about a future home release, they responded with this teasing and hopeful line:
Until then, catching a screening of this at your local theater is your current option. It has been noted that Darren Aronofsky is a huge fan of the film and at one time wanted to remake it. It seems he is definitely influenced by it. I highly recommend seeing it in the theater if you have never see this important work of anime cinema.