Perfect Blue: A Review and Look Back

 

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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:

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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.

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Crunchyroll Expo 2018

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For those who are not familiar with Crunchyroll and it’s service, it is probably the largest provider of anime streaming content on the Internet. Through mobile and console apps via Roku, Amazon Fire, Playstation and XBox, they have grown very popular as the default service for licensed legally available anime. One of the pluses is their licensing deals with Japanese studios to allow simulcasts of current anime seasons. That means as an episode airs in Japan, it is streamed online with subtitles that same day.

In 2017, Crunchyroll had their first Crunchyroll Expo (CRX for short) at the Santa Clara Convention Center. It was quite a good turnout as a medium-sized convention, Not San Diego Comic-Con numbers, and that is a good thing. This year, CRX was held in San Jose, a larger venue and at least as big a crowd if not bigger. To be fair SacAnime was also going on in Sacramento and the behemoth of Dragon Con was also going in in Atlanta.

CRX differs a few ways from other anime conventions in that since it is run by a specific company there is of course bias towards Crunchyroll and it’s content. If you’ve ever been to Sony’s PSX, then this might sound familiar. Fortunately, Crunchyroll has enough content worth running a convention over.

The exhibit hall of the convention center had much to offer, including food from outside vendors whose menus included katsu curry sandwiches, takoyaki, and what has become a mainstay at geeky conventions in San Jose’s convention center, Psycho Donuts.

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In addition to the main hall being a vendors room where you can get all sorts of anime related merchandise from blu-rays to cosplay wigs, figures, plushies and even body pillows, there  was an extensive artists area. This artist area is a great place for finding art prints, postcards, even crochet. And to me the examples of creativity is really well represented in anime conventions.

This year, there were quite a few premiers and retrospective screenings of anime films all throughout the day. GKids, which is celebrating its 10 anniversary, brought in their library of Studio Ghibli films and even their Irish import, The Secret of Kells.  A major stand out for me was the premier of the English dub of Maquia. It had previously made the rounds in limited release subtitled and is now about to make the rounds again dubbed. If you get a chance to see this in the theater do so — and call your mother. Seriously, you’ll want to. It is truly a beautifully animated film that is also incredibly emotional as well.

Another premier was for a new anime about to make the rounds called Penguin Highway. It’s quite a charming and at times surreal film about youth, inquisitiveness, and of course penguins. I’m a sucker for pengins already adn penguins in anime will score huge points from me.

Both films came courtesy of Eleven Arts Studio which was responsible for bringing over the truly remarkable film A Silent Voice — which , by the way, still doesn’t have a North American home video release. I had to import the Region B UK blu-ray. Luckily I had a blu-ray player that can switch regions. More in-depth reviews of both films are forthcoming.

One new upcoming show I got to see was the premier of The Rise of the Shield Hero coming in January to Crunchyroll. Yes it’s yet another Isekai anime, a genre where a protagonist is brought out of their regular mundane world and transported to a fantasy RPG like world. And frankly for the first half of the premier episode I was cynical, but after a twist it does become very interesting and becomes a little darker. I’ll be looking forward to where they go with this in January. Meanwhile there have been several light novels and manga already translated and available already.

Of course, as with most anime conventions, there are guests. One of the most popular animes right now is My Hero Academia, an anime that is heavily influenced by Western super-hero comics. So it’s no wonder that it has a cross appeal not just because its influences but because it’s a darn good show. In my opinion it is also a show that is very well done in the English dub and several of the English voice actors were on hand having fun swapping their roles from several scenes from the show.

Crunchyroll was just recently acquired by AT&T and I don’t know how that will effect the service going forward and also the future of any more Expos. But if AT&T were smart and cared (seriously, I doubt that from my experience) they will grow and continue on with CRX. So until next year — hopefully…