Ahhhh, the vagaries of stardom. Plenty of money, private jets, fast cars, an entourage of “Yes” men doing your bidding, and millions of screaming fans. However, fans sometimes become a star’s worst enemy. We’ve all seen news reports of obsessed fans stalking and sometimes harming the celebrities they’re fixated upon. This obsession sometimes spins out of control and we get such tragedies as John Lennon’s murder in Central Park. This scenario has been adapted for the screen several times, in such like, “The Fan” and “Play Misty For Me.” In 2002, fledgling director Satoshi Kon took his own proverbial stab at the subject with the animated “Perfect Blue.”
Mima Kirigoe is a member of an overproduced J-Pop girl band named CHAM (think a combination of Atomic Kitten, Spice Girls and Dream). Rapidly becoming unsatisfied with the limitations of her career as a teenybopper, Mima pulls a Menudo and ‘graduates’ out of the group in order to pursue an acting career. Much like how Cosby kid Lisa Bonet attempted to grow out of her Cosby persona with a super sultry role in “Angel Heart,” Mima is eager to shed her squeaky clean girl band image and, much to the dismay of her management, promptly accepts a role in a sleazy TV serial killer drama.
Before long, Mima is posing nude for a racy photo shoot and agreeing to perform a brutal gang rape scene for the TV show. While these salacious endeavors garner her tremendous popularity, many of her core CHAM fans disapprove, and soon Mima is receiving death threats. She also comes across an Internet stalker’s website that has disturbing but accurate descriptions of her day-to-day activities. Things get much more dangerous when Mima’s manager receives a mail bomb and the TV show’s scriptwriter is found stabbed to death.
“Perfect Blue” utilizes a multiple layered reality structure that has been used most notably in Chris Nolan’s “Memento” and Alejandro Amenabar’s “Abre Los Ojos.” Kon deftly splices together the movie within a movie conceit with a nightmare within a dream within reality, all in an attempt to visualize Mima’s rapidly deteriorating mental health as her situation worsens. Is a deranged lunatic stalking Mima or is she just imagining it? Is she awake, or is this all just a bad dream?
While at first disorienting and at times frustrating, things eventually start to fall into place. With the situations and violence becoming increasingly unpleasant, Kon reels everything in with a breathtaking inside-out concluding sequence. It’s a credit to Kon’s skill that the viewer is almost able to piece together what’s real and what isn’t before the film’s big reveal. Almost. The brilliance of the closing image is that it leaves open to interpretation just who’s point of view the story is being told from, and whether what we are seeing is in fact reality or still someone’s dream.
While constructed as a hyper-stylish slasher flick in the Dario Argento mold, “Blue” has some surprising thematic depth. It can be interpreted as a theatrical, if somewhat clinical, examination of the prison that is stardom. Just look at the careers of most of the cast members of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ and ‘Saved By the Bell’, or members of early ’90s boy band New Kids On The Block. These kids get pigeonholed as a certain type of character based on their previous ‘life’ and are typically not accepted in other roles. Thus, they are forced to do something extreme to get noticed again (i.e. Elizabeth Berkley in “Showgirls”).
“Perfect Blue” also touches on what I find to be a rather disturbing preoccupation in Japan. That is, the depiction of exploitation/rape of women (particularly underage girls) in seedier forms of entertainment such as Hentai (tentacle porn, for the uninitiated), the ‘Pink’ film genre, and even standard porn. I have my own ideas as to the origins of this cultural nugget, but that’s the subject of a separate discussion.
Besides the unusually well thought out script, “Perfect Blue” also differs from the average anime in look. The drawing is much cleaner and the characters look like real people rather than cartoons. The character design and style of animation is more akin to “Akira” than to traditional anime. This isn’t too surprising, as Kon cut his teeth doing background artwork and animation for “Akira.” In fact, “Blue” was originally slated to be a live-action production, but was recast as an animated feature after some financial problems during development. Ironically, a live-action version was eventually made in 2002.
“Perfect Blue” manages to keep the viewer hooked with its fancy footwork by successfully pulling off what could have easily turned into an aimless exercise in exploitation and orgiastic violence. Visually inventive, thematically dark, gruesomely violent and narratively intricate, “Perfect Blue” is, without a doubt, a satisfying piece of entertainment.
Toshiki Sato (director)
CAST: Ayaka Maeda …. Ai Asaka
Nao Omori …. Toshihiko Horibe
Masahiro Toda …. Bando, Ai’s manager
Makiko Watanabe …. Bando’s wife
Yumi Shimizu …. Hiromi