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Perfect Blue (1997) directed by Satoshi Kon - UK rerelease

Video review

A rereleased anime classic

Satoshi Kon’s classic Japanese animated thriller is getting a UK cinema rerelease on 31st October 2017. It revolves around a celebrity named Mima Kirigoe (voiced by Junko Iwao) who retires from singing with J-pop band Cham to take up acting. Unfortunately, what should be an exciting career move for her becomes a nightmare as she is being stalked by a disfigured fanatic. What starts out with breathy phone calls and sinister letters soon turns to letter bombs and a strange online diary whose writer knows every little detail about her - from which foot she always puts forward first when getting off the subway car, to her own deepest feelings about the events in her life.

Cham in Perfect Blue

During her attempts to get her career as an actress off the ground she is given some sleazy jobs by one of her agents named Tadokoro (voiced by Shinpachi Tsuji): the part of a rape victim in a TV police drama and a series of nude photo shoots. This is despite the misgivings of her other agent and personal friend Rumi (voiced by Rica Matsumoto). Indeed, the degrading nature of her work causes strains on her mental health - in particular when the show’s director takes a rather overenthusiastic attitude towards filming her rape scene.

She starts to imagine that she is seeing a doppelgänger of herself: one who decided to remain in Cham and isn’t overly pleased with the downmarket nature of the career the “other her” is taking. Things get even more complicated when the stalking incidents escalate to the stage of the brutal murders of both the show’s screenwriter and the nude photographer. Is the stalker carrying out these violent acts - or is she, herself, unwittingly carrying them out in her alter ego form?

Watch a trailer:

Perfect black

Perfect Blue has maintained quite an enduring following in the 20 years since its release. This isn’t just because it’s a fantastic example of Japanese animation (which it is) but because of its connections with Darren Aronofsky’s much-acclaimed 2010 horror-thriller Black Swan - which was inspired by it to the extent that the director actually bought up the license to it so as to avoid any potential repercussions in the shape of a copyright case.

However, it should be noted that, while Black Swan does bear the stamp of a Perfect Blue influence in certain aspects it’s far from a slavish rip-off. Indeed, Kons’ film itself has clearly taken more than a little inspiration from the likes of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and the films of Dario Argento. The whole doppelgänger idea was far from new at the time either. In the case of either movie, while it is possible to trace the influences back on a cinematic timeline, it’s their respective stylistic and thematic meat which makes them both stand as truly individual pieces of work.

Fame and the objectification of women

There is a lot of depth in Perfect Blue as it takes a look at the pressures of fame and expectations that come from public personas - be they as a wholesome and cheesy pop star or as a struggling actress forced to degrade herself in order to make her way in the world. The vulnerable real person is lost behind these personas which are sold to the public. There’s also a commentary on the objectification of women for the male gaze; the staged “rape” sequence is shot tightly and at length, with the male actor on top of her visibly pawing her breasts as she displays a sense of agony that might plausibly not be acting.

Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue has a lot of visual flair

Satoshi Kon imbues a lot of flair in both the visuals and setpieces. The scenes of Mima’s alter ego skipping along nighttime streets in the manner of a ghost are truly haunting. The image of colourful dead guppies slowly floating upwards in her fish tank is beautiful at the same time as being harrowing. Her city apartment is littered with cute and feminine items which reflect her gentle and almost childlike vulnerability. On the other hand, the Argento-style gory murders are masterworks of carefully cranked-up tension and jarringly-timed brutality. The soundtrack by Masahiro Ikumi - which veers from the twee J-pop output of the Cham band to the industrial ferocity of the music accompanying the murders - is memorably haunting.

Perfect Blue fully deserves its place on an essential anime list that includes Akira and the best Studio Ghibli output. It shows that it’s quite possible to take the format far away from the usual mystical creatures, multi-tentacled demons, giant “mecha” robots and cyberpunk trappings and straight into a more grounded and harrowing territory. If you haven’t seen it yet, the 31st October rerelease is a fantastic opportunity to get acquainted.

Runtime: 81 mins

Dir: Satoshi Kon

Script: Sadayuki Murai, from a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi

Voices: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Masaaki Ōkura, Shinpachi Tsuji

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

Click for showtimes:

Showtimes in Cameo Edinburgh

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