The first film in my first match-up in the second round of the 90s Far East Bracket is a delight for your brain!
Screenplay By: Sadayuki Murai
Directed By: Satoshi Kon
Every once in a while you watch a movie for a second time and you are blown away by the movie and appalled that you put off giving it another chance for so long. Something like The Big Lebowski doesn’t fall into this category for me, I always planned to revisit it and had every inkling that I would love it the second time around. Perfect Blue on the other hand is a film I saw once years ago, liked a fair amount and decided it wasn’t worth revisiting for one reason or another. Then came the Filmspotting ’90’s Far East Bracket, and I saw Perfect Blue sitting there. I read as it was advanced to the next round, and when the second round came around it was still there, waiting for someone to grab it and I figured, why not me? Little did I know that my decision to give Perfect Blue another once over would end up rocking my cinematic world.
Perfect Blue isn’t a film that outwardly appears to be trying for anything you wouldn’t expect from an identity crisis based thriller. In many ways Satoshi Kon uses the source material, in this case a novel, to tell a story that calls back to identity thrillers from years past. But what Kon does that truly elevates Perfect Blue to another level is to go a step further and not just question the idea of identity but to leave the audience on the edge of their seat wondering what is real and what is a dream. Yes, this has been done before, I’m not saying what Kon does is all that original, but the way he does it is full of a frenetic energy that continually sucked me in and refused to let me go.
Kon doesn’t stop there however, he tosses in other little bits to fully flesh out his film, to make it more than just a film that wants to question the idea of identity. By making Mima a J-Pop, if you don’t know what this means then I suggest you look it up and prepare to have your mind blown by Japanese pop culture, superstar he sets in motion a chance for him to give a giant middle finger to his own culture. People often rag on the American celebrity system, but in reality the Japanese celebrity system is much worse. Even their most popular J-Pop stars can often only have the minimum fifteen minutes of fame. But, whereas a majority of used up American celebrities simply fade to obscurity or succumb to their own demons, the Japanese system uses its stars until they are bone dry. Many a young J-Pop star has found him or herself in the same situation as Mima, falling prey to their need to be famous, the whims of greedy managers and the seedy desires of a dominant male society.
Sorry, got sidetracked there a bit with some cultural history, you know that happens when I write, a lot. Back on topic, Kon uses Mima to blast his own culture for the way they view celebrity. So much of the film is dominated by how popular Mima is, by her level of celebrity and by the things she is willing to do, others are willing to make her do, and others want to see her do in order to somehow maintain her celebrity status. Kon also uses the character of Rumi as an example of how easily Japan forgets its stars, once a J-Pop star now she is literally a nobody who not a single person on the street knows or cares about. I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese customs and culture, but Kon appears to have touched a nerve in Perfect Blue, and he presses down hard on that nerve.
I could sit here and talk all day about the layers to be found in Perfect Blue, but focusing on the layers that Kon brings to the table detracts from the films main thrust, it is a great thriller. From start to finish Perfect Blue holds you in its grasp, keeps you in a state of befuddlement as far as what is and isn’t reality and ultimately tosses in a nice bit of misdirection so that the entire film takes on a very ambiguous tint. There may be nothing better in all of cinema than a movie that wants you to be thrilled and think about why you are thrilled, and Perfect Blue excels at bringing this type of cinematic experience to the viewer. Outside of the layers of meta to be found, the deliciously evil animation, and even the direction of Kon, Perfect Blue is a taut little thriller. Perfect Blue came out of nowhere to blow my mind this time around, but god damn am I happy as a clam for giving one of the best thrillers I have ever seen another chance.