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Review: Perfect Blue – “Mind-blowing reality-blurring psychological thriller”

Written by Sadayuki Murai (Steamboy), Perfect Blue is based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and directed by Satashi Kon (Paprika). To mark the film’s 20th anniversary the film is receiving a theatrical re-release in UK cinemas this Halloween.

Mima (Junko Iwao – Cardcaptor Sakura) is the most popular member of an all-girl pop trio called CHAM!. Tired of a lack of integrity and independence, and seeking artistic and emotional fulfilment, she quits CHAM! to pursue a role as an actress. This goes down awfully with her fans and pushes one in particular – a creepy obsessive otaku called Me-Mania – dangerously over the edge.

Mima’s first and only acting gig is a tiny recurring role on a TV crime show where she has one line given to her by a writer who does not rate her because of her pop star past. Her assistant, Rumi (Rica Matsumoto – Ash in Pokémon), and agent, Tadokoro (Shinpachi Suji – Kiki’s Delivery Service), push the director for more lines and screen time and he agrees on the basis that Mima can be made edgier and shed her wholesome image.

Determined to become an actress, not wanting to let her management down, and upset at CHAM! seemingly doing better without her, Mima agrees to take part in a naked photo shoot for a men’s magazine, and to film a rape scene for the TV show. Once home in her crappy and crampy apartment, we discover that Mima hates herself for being exploited by powerful men in the entertainment industry, and is just pushing all her feelings down and putting on a brave face.

Mima begins to suffer from extreme anxiety, paranoia and imposter syndrome, and her mental stability is damaged further by a series of heavy breathing calls, and the discovery of a fan site called “Mima’s Room” – run by an – imposter blogging as her, with an extremely intimate knowledge of her thoughts feeling and movements.

Mima silently suffers a mental breakdown, begins losing track of time, and imaging a different stronger and harder alter ego – who is still a pop star, is trying to ruin her life and perhaps also murder her. Reality begins to break down around Mima, and both her and we begin to find it difficult to see where Mima, her character in the show, and the Black Swan Mima begin and end.

The 1997-ness of Perfect Blue may at times seem twee, with threats being sent by fax and an extremely unfamiliarity with computers and the internet, but this is a dark and biting film that is not just a sharp and shocking psycho-thriller, but a vehicle for Kon to also deliver a harsh and spot-on take-down of the misogyny and exploitation of women in Japan’s idol industry.

Cinematographer Hisao Shirai was also responsible for My Neighbor Totoro and Ghost in the Shell, so it should come as absolutely no surprise that the visuals are indelible and incredible in an unpredictable and brain-melting whodunnit full of imagery that still dazzles, impresses and sticks in the mind twenty years later.

Perfect Blue is not just an anime landmark, but an incredibly and immaculately crafted mind-blowing reality-blurring psychological thriller.

Perfect Blue receives a 20th anniversary re-release in the UK on the 31st of October.

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