J-pop idol group CHAM! has spent the last two years entertaining its fans. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and CHAM! must see one of its members, Mima Kirigoe, leave the group to pursue her acting career. While Mima's choice is met with a mixed response, she hopes her fans will continue to support her. However, Mima's life begins to change drastically after her departure from the group. Wanting to shed her pop-idol image, she takes on a role in a crime drama series, and her career as an actress gradually becomes more demanding and taxing for both Mima and her manager, Rumi Hidaka. To add to Mima's growing unease, an obsessed fan who is incapable of accepting that Mima has quit being an innocent idol, begins stalking her; a new anonymous website begins to impersonate her life with intricate detail; and CHAM! also appears to be doing better without her. One by one, each disturbing development drives Mima to become increasingly unhinged and unable to distinguish reality from fantasy. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
Perfect Blue centers around a small pop star’s transition into the film business. Her life is turned upside down by her new, less innocent work, a stalker, and several murders that occur around her. Much like Millennium Actress and Paprika, this is another Satoshi Kon film that blurs the lines between reality and delusion, only to a more suspenseful effect in Perfect Blue. Mima, the ex-pop star turned actress is filming a TV murder drama throughout most of the movie that eerily mirrors the murders that are occurring around her. It is often unclear if a scene is playing out on the set or in the real world. Then there’s the nagging question throughout of whether the entire scenario isn’t a schizophrenic delusion of a psychotic killer.
The stalker and the murders are suspense staples, and unnerving enough in and of themselves. The religious obsession of stalkers is inherently freaky, as are psychotic and pathological murders. The layer that Kon’s style adds is the anxiety the viewer feels each time Mima wakes up from a horrendous dream or in each filmed scene of the TV drama where the already unstable established reality becomes even more fragile when we question if perhaps the supposedly filmed rape scenes or murder scenes are the truth; if perhaps the seemingly sweet and innocent Mima doesn’t hide a psychopath behind a web of delusions. The film doesn’t try to establish a twisted empathy with the killer in question the way many suspense novels would. Most of the important characters are quite simply insane. The lack of awareness they have for their own pathology, along with the constant ambiguity in the borders between fantasy and reality is what builds and holds the suspense.
Satoshi Kon has always done beautiful running animation, but nowhere is it more appreciated than in Perfect Blue. The way the characters stumble a little every now and then, or run full sprint into a wall and push off to round a corner rather than just slowing down and making a turn, coupled with spectacular voice performances by the cast, most notably when they’re screaming for help or begging for forgiveness, does wonders at conveying the sheer terror these characters are experiencing during the more violent scenes. From eye stabbing to rape, some of these scenes seem like they’re too disgusting to watch, and there was always a part of me that wanted to turn away, but the fear bleeds through the screen in such a way that I found my eyes glued, and myself actually praying for the characters’ safety. In this sense, even though Perfect Blue doesn’t establish the easiest characters to empathize with, the shockingly realistic way they convey horror (relative to other Anime at the very least) awakens the primal concern we have for someone in distress.
The twist at the end is skin crawlingly creepy, and at a happy medium between predictable and out of the blue. It’s hinted at a few times throughout the film, but with all the reality bending and psychotic delusions going on, it certainly isn’t the only outcome I suspected. Too bad it so clearly distinguishes the previously hazy borders between what is real and what isn’t. Such an ambiguous movie should retain a little bit of its ambiguity to the end, but instead the climax brings reality down fast and hard. Its clarity and convenience makes it slightly unsatisfying.
There’s no arguing that the climax is spectacular. The whole movie makes beautiful use of tension without any gimmicky camera angles that zoom in on demented, boggling eyes or some other such junk that many psychothriller anime titles use to create unease when the scenario itself isn’t enough to accomplish it. Perfect Blue is creepiness in its purest form.