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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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   Perfect Blue  


Perfect Blue

Reviewed by Foong Ngai Hoe

Director: Kon Satoshi
Writing Credits: Murai Sadayuki, Takeuchi Yoshikazu
Cast: Iwao Junko, Matsumoto Rica
Genre: Animated (anime) mystery
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Year Released: 1997
Runtime: 81 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead

When it comes to battling inner demons - the doppelgangers, the alien others - the Japanese literary circle takes it on almost with an obsession. The antihero in Abe Kooboo's 1964 Tanin no kao (The Face of Another) confronts his new, unfamiliar face, while the protagonist in Endo Shusaku's 1986 novel Sukyandaru (Scandal) has to face his murderous double in Tokyo's red light district.

Based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi's 1991 novel, Satoshi Kon's (Roujin Z, Patlabor 2, Memories ~ Kanojo no omoide/Magnetic Rose) anime, Perfect Blue (1997), deals with the double of a former pop idol who returns to torment the singer, when she seeks to become an actress instead.

Mima Kirigoe is a member of the idol group Cham. Quitting the trio, she decides to take up a career as an actress, and gets her first role in the murder-mystery Double Bind, playing the sister of a murder victim in the show. Already uneasy about her new life - especially having to appear in a rape-scene, as well as posing nude for photo magazines - Mima's life starts to fall apart when those involved in the film are brutally murdered one by one. On the Internet, an alter-ego posts every minute detail of her life onto her fan site. And more ominously, a malevolent double appears to taunt Mima for turning her back on her singing career.

Perfect Blue is an interesting dig at Japan's pop-idol industry, and its teen idorus whose careers and lifestyles are at the mercy of the clean, wholesome images their marketers and adoring fans come to expect of them.

When Mima chooses to part with her idol-singing career, not only does she earn the scorn of her former fans, but her own guilt also returns back to haunt her in the form of her pop-idol double. Her rocky start in the film business, coupled with the success of Cham, soon affects her morale -- to the point that Mima wonders if she herself could be behind the gruesome murders.

Further irony is also found in Double Bind, the movie Mima is acting in when the crimes began. Called 'the looking-glass of Perfect Blue' by the staff of the anime, Double Bind is almost a mirror-image of the turmoil going on in Mima's head.

Takeuchi's novel seems set for what should have been an intriguing film adaptation. But despite Kon's competent direction, Perfect Blue is less the psychological thriller than it is another murder-mystery to feature a celebrity being stalked.

The film fails to work up enough scenes inside Mima's head to suggest that as her acting career takes a turn for the worse, Mima's begins to yearn for her past. There are flashes of that in the film - like when she fantasies herself among her former group mates, as they celebrate their single making it to the charts - but such moments are few and brief.

In another scene, Mima wakes up to the news of the murdered photographer, and subsequently finds the bloodstained attire tucked away in her closet. A terrified Mima hastily hides them away when someone comes knocking on her door, and that is the last we hear of the matter. Such a discovery would have undoubtedly traumatised the girl, and yet its psychological impact is again played down.

By dealing inadequately with Mima's own ambiguity, Perfect Blue loses that cutting-edge in this sort of film. By the time it is revealed that Mimamaniac, an obsessed Mima fan, and Rumi, Mima's own disillusioned manager were behind the killings, the ending has become disappointingly run-of-the-mill.

"I am the real thing," a confident Mima takes off her shades as she smiles into the car's rear-mirror. Not that there was much before that had one guessing otherwise. Not that there is much after to indicate that it's all but one bad dream for Mima either...

I'm not looking for another Freudian trip - a la Neon Genesis Evangelion - but for a show touted as a 'psychological suspense-thriller', the way the film ended, and how it got there, left me feeling rather short-changed.

Also, the screenplay by Sadayuki Murai (Eko Eko Azarak) is engaging as far as mystery-dramas go, but again it's more pulp fiction than a thinking-man's anime. Some of the scenes in the later half of the film - with Mima's mind traversing back and forth between acting and reality - gets a little disruptive and incoherent as well.

But criticisms aside, Perfect Blue is, nevertheless, well worth the accolades and awards it's received. It's an unmistakably disturbing and absorbing work -- gripping (and perhaps gory) enough to keep fans of the genre happy. Some scenes -- like the one where Mima's double stabs a photographer to death -- are visually powerful. And Mima does come across as an anguished and confused character.

Being a fan of horror-mysteries myself, I enjoyed Perfect Blue. But being a demanding anime fan, I’m also left thinking if this could have been something more, especially when the industry's heavyweights such as Katushiro Ootomo and Hisashi Eguchi have lent their expertise to the film.

Perfect Blue is good, no doubt. It just ain't perfect.

April 1999