Monkeys Fighting Robots

So, Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, where do I start? If you haven’t been paying attention to my reviews (or more specifically what I review), it’s clear I don’t review “normal.” I review “weird.” This explains why I can be so profuse in my praise of something like Pop Team Epic, and so elusive of any critical praise in something like the ill-fated Double Dare revival. Yet it’s also painfully clear, I review dark and dour media, which isn’t right. I want to talk something lighter…

So, let’s talk about Perfect Blue. I sure hope it’s a light subject, right?

Right? Right?!?

For those who haven’t studied the work of the late Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue was his debut directorial debut, and after being stuck in copyright limbo (the same kind of copyright limbo preventing quality media like the entire Macross meta-series, and the Marvel’s ROM Spaceknight series, from being available to an audience more than happy to see these works), the film finally got rescued and Fathom Events showed a two day screening. I saw the dubbed version.

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Suffice to say, I was kind of interested in this. However, I also knew this was a murder mystery and immediately my powers of “plot clairvoyance” started acting up. I predicted either our killer was a stalker, or our “main character” had multiple personalities, based on nothing more a basic plot synopsis (without spoilers, mind you).

And thus, Siri was born.

So, let’s discuss the plot as much as I can with a minimum of spoilers: although for a twenty-year-old films, they’re not spoilers anymore. Mima is a pop idol, who is tired of her typecast image of well, a pop idol, and wants to branch out into acting. So Mima leaves the pop group she was part of and gets a supporting role in a cop drama. Here’s where things get interesting: one of her agents introduces her to the internet (the film was released in 1998, so there’s still the gee whiz factor to the internet, which is unintentionally hilarious), and a website called “Mima’s Room”, which details her life in excruciating detail, as if she wrote a diary, yet clearly didn’t. The film gets progressively more insane, with people who would have helped out Mima’s acting career, getting murdered. All the while, I had a feeling where the film was going to go, and it did (for the most part.)

Let’s talk about clichés, because heaven forbid I’ve haven’t talked about them. If you’ve seen enough films to qualify yourself as a film critic you know the audience tends to identity certain type of people as good or bad. This is without bringing up issues of race or sex. I’m of course talking about characterization, and if you know your movie plots, you know a bad guy when you see them. In Perfect Blue’s case, it introduces the killer too early.

How do I know he’s the villain? Look at the shot composition. The stalker wants to keep her in the palm of his hand.

How did I know the stalker was the killer? Simple, in a world where everyone has a relatively standardized design, he’s painfully obvious with a larger gap between his eyes, and his bizarre teeth. I know it’s petty, but when you’re casting a murderer in a murder mystery, don’t make them look different from everyone else!

Why do I say this? Well let’s go back to the one of the most iconic murder-mysteries in all of fiction: Murder on the Orient Express. In the novel (and the multitude of different film adaptations), we know the who, the what, the where, and the situational background. As the story progresses, we learn about the connections the passengers had with the murder victim, and then eventually, at the end we learn the culprit. Murder mystery 101.

Perfect Blue attempts to ask the question “What is real?” This balance is only seemingly found in the middle of the film.

Now before commentators jump to their keyboards typing: “He has disparaged the work of Satoshi Kon, and thus he must die”, let me ask you (the audience) something: If Satoshi Kon were still alive, would I still criticize the story? Well, yes, frankly. However, because I criticize doesn’t mean the film is completely terrible, far from it.

It’s clear from watching the film, Kon had a natural directorial eye with how to light shots, shot composition, and iconography. Many shots in the film were downright gorgeous for their use of said composition and lighting. The “dream” Mima, bathed in white light is one notable example. Of course, said directorial eye cannot solve another problem, I noticed watching the film. The film has this shakiness throughout the movie, even for frames that are meant to perfect still, have this shakiness. You cannot believe how distracting this was watching the film.

Composition-wise, this is fantastic.

In addition, Kon’s directing of the fight scenes (there are two of these, but they’re more like scuffles, than anything else) were genuinely exciting. Part of me would have wished Kon directed an action series (Not a shonen series!), or an OVA of something like Record of Lodoss War. Honestly, he would have done surprisingly well, in said genre.

I’d also be remiss to talk those few and fleeting moments when the film played with the audiences’ sanity, through solid editing and fantastic direction. Those moments reminded me a lot of Jacob’s Ladder, the now tragically underrated film, which was an inspiration for the good Silent Hill games and screwed with the audiences’ head. Yet all of this feels for naught when you get back to the non-mystery.

You know something’s wrong with a plot, when the way to solve this complex mystery, is by calling the cops.

Well, it did have one twist, which legitimately surprised me, then infuriated me and still does. Spoilers for a 20-year-old movie, by the way.

The “actual” killer (i.e. the one the film says is the killer, with narrative problems I’ll get into) was her former manager, who didn’t like the direction Mima was taking her career. This is confusing for many distinct reasons: let’s go down the line, shall we?

See questions 2 & 6, down below
  1. Why is the manager, the killer? All the pieces placed the stalker as the killer.
  2. If the manager was “The Dream Mima”, then who was the stalker talking to, after the images of Mima talked to the stalker? This is problematic, because the stalker (as crazy as he was) would have heard a door open!
  3. Why would you blow your cover? You got away scot-free! You didn’t have to kill her!
  4. Does this also mean the stalker was also the killer?
  5. Who committed each murder? I’d like to believe the stalker, it’s never explained in the film.
  6. Wait, if “The Dream Mima” wasn’t the manager talking to the stalker, was the stalker’s “dream Mima” a hallucination?
  7. Furthermore, if it was the manager was playing “The Dream Mima”, then how could she jump onto roofs, when aerodynamics says otherwise?

I could keep going, but the more I try to think about the ending, the more I realize it’s a Möbius loop of insanity, and I’ve already written almost three pages.

Perfect Blue's action sequences
To go back to an earlier point, I really loved the action scenes in Perfect Blue, both pulse-pounding, and frenetic without being clichéd (for the most part).

I’ll briefly talk about the English dub actors, because I did see this as a dub. The dub was done by the now defunct Animaze studios. I mentioned them in the Devilman review (remember, all my reviews tend to be interconnected!) Anyway, notables like Steve Blum, Wendee Lee, Lia Sargent and Bridget Hoffman all have appearances, in said dub. Hoffman does a solid job with Mima. While the dub is no Cowboy Bebop (then again, what is?), it’s not bad in the slightest, and considering the peaks and valleys in the wild west days of anime dubbing in the early 2000s, that’s saying something. Call it a B+.

In conclusion: Perfect Blue is a frustrating film, a beautifully designed, well directed, well-acted film, with a mystery plot which doesn’t work. I’ve been tearing my hair out trying to figure out the grade, yet I feel I came to a happy medium.

Perfect Blue
Matthew Simon
If he isn't watching a forgotten library title, Matthew Simon is watching anime or attending anime conventions.
perfect-blue-reviewPerfect Blue is an insanely flawed film, with a unique visual voice, and a mystery which doesn't work.