4 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

Secret Santa: Perfect Blue

perfect blue 2Every year the folks at Reverse Thieves do an Anime Secret Santa. Anime writers and bloggers “gift” each other a selection of anime to watch with the goal of reviewing it on Christmas Eve. Normally I like to go for something, if not obscure, then an anime I wouldn’t have normally gone out of my way to watch. Things such as BarefSo that’s why this year I watched one of the most celebrated anime movies of all time, a movie that inspired filmmakers across the world, by a director who has made 2 of my all time favourite anime movies, with the one piece by him I hadn’t seen yet. Because sometimes I just like to use Secret Santa as a great excuse to get through my pile of shame.

It’s weird to come to Perfect Blue last out of the Kon anime since I had built up this strange idea in my head that Kon was a director of harsh but ultimately heartwarming movies. A completely incorrect categorisation but you could forgive me when his other 3 main movies follow that tonal template. I had forgotten Paranoia Agent and Magnetic Rose as it had been almost 7-8 years since I had seen either of them. I knew the general outline of Perfect Blue but it was still a touch surprising to watch something this dark and uncomfortable.

Make no mistake, Perfect Blue is a highly uncomfortable watch. It’s been described by many people as a horror movie and that’s certainly true, albeit in that unsettling Japanese form of horror rather than jump scares. It’s the kind of unsettling feeling you get as you watch someone slowly lose their mind. In a way it’s similar to the discomfort one gets watching really good cringe humour. You’re watching these events that you know will mess with the head of the main character and it’s making you physically squirm in your seat.

The story is about a pop idol who makes the career choice to move away from the cutesy, squeaky-clean world of the idol business and into being a serious actress. One who stars in serious crime television with serial murders and rape scenes. One who appears in adult magazines fully nude (Perfect Blue holds as interesting record as being the anime with the largest number of shots of pubic hair). This whole transition is making her very uncomfortable, even as she tries to rationalise it as being something she has to do to shed her old persona. Throw in a stalker who sends explosive letters in the mail calling her out as being some kind of dirty slut and not their wonderful pure idol of before, and you have the perfect bag of stress to make someone lose their mind.

This being Kon, there’s a lot of messing about with reality and imagination, which means you’re never entirely sure what’s real and what isn’t. Especially the final twist throws a lot of things you took for granted out of whack, a trope I’ve personally never been too keen on since it can feel like a cheap way of pulling the rug out from under you. But how they mess with your own understanding of reality in her world is fantastic. The movie mixes of the drama she stars in and the reality of her collapsing self-conscious to the point that it’s difficult to work out where one starts and the other begins. It’s something Kon uses in Millennium Actress too and it’s something I really like about his work.

Indeed that blending of reality and fiction plays into one of the more interesting themes running through the movie about idol image. Much about idol culture is about maintaining the perfect pure look. So when the idol appears in a drama where she is raped, it’s ruined the purity image. Even if it hasn’t actually happened, in the world of idols it’s true because it’s what she did while in character. This image of her being ruined plagues the main girl’s image of herself as she becomes ashamed of what’s she’s doing compared to that pretty idol she used to be. The same thought runs through her psycho stalker. His perfect idol no longer exists so if he rapes and then kills this impostor, it will mean his old idol will return.

It’s hard to say I like a movie that’s this uncomfortable and disturbing. It’s probably a movie I will gradually appreciate more and more over time. However right now (I finished watching the movie about an hour ago), I’m still a touch shaken by the experience. It’s not fun or gratifying. You don’t even get the feeling of exhausted exhilaration a typical horror movie might give you. Instead it just leaves you feeling unpleasant, like you’ve just left the scene of a gruesome murder. On the other hand, it’s not a hateful movie. Unlike something like End of Evangelion where I came away from it resenting the creator for repeatedly telling me how shitty the world is, Perfect Blue feels like it still ultimately cares about humans and wants them to be happy in this imperfect world. It’s not a movie born out of hatred but of concern, and you can’t be concerned unless you care about something.

Call me back in a year and I’ll probably tell you Perfect Blue is one of the best anime movies of all time. Right now though I just want to curl up in a dark room and feel sorry for myself.

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  1. gedata
    Posted December 24, 2015 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    “Unlike something like End of Evangelion where I came away from it resenting the creator for repeatedly telling me how shitty the world is, Perfect Blue feels like it still ultimately cares about humans and wants them to be happy in this imperfect world”
    Funny you should say that given how the main character chose his shitty world over the made up happiness of the sea of orange juice.

  2. Posted December 24, 2015 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    See, I love End of not just because of the staggering visceral imagery of display, but because it stands as a complete package alongside the tv series as both a reflection of Shinji’s (ie Anno’s) ups and downs with depression. In one conclusion can tell he’s reaching for a ray of light in the darkness, while in the other he’s basically saying fuck it and giving up. Alone it’s pretty horrendous, but as a companion piece to what is essentially a heaven/hell, good/bad end route I have a lot of affection towards the film.

    In Kon’s case you get the feeling he generally has a far more upbeat attitude towards humanity but is clearly exasperated, if fascinated by the lies and self-delusions people hide behind on a day to day basis. All of his works have concerned that to some degree, from Mima convincing herself that the actress route is what she truly desires, even when her world is collapsing around her, the homeless trio in Tokyo Godfather’s being too ashamed of their pasts to admit they’re in a cage of their own making, to basically the entire cast of Paranoia Agent. He’s harsh and refuses to paint their actions in a positive or even sympathetic light, but rarely damns them entirely for these flaws.

    The big exception seems to be when it comes to turning people into the physical manifestation of another’s twists delusions & perverted fantasies, at which point his gloves come off. Whether with the idol fans here, the creepy schoolgirl obsessed policeman in PA or the stalker dude in Paprika, you can tell Kon gives few shits about telling the audience what his feeling are towards people that objectify women for their own pleasure. Perfect Blue is especially bad for it because the entire premise centres around this particular element of mainstream Japanese society and pop culture in general, not to mention it was his first film and seemed operate with a sort of outsider indie film attitude. In subsequent works you can tell he learned to sweeten the pill, stylistically speaking. I’ve grown to enjoy the film way more after a few re-watches, but it’s never going to be a happy or particularly pleasant experience. That’s why it ranks as my personal least favourite Kon movie, even if it’s probably his most important, and definitely more cohesive than Paprika was.

    This last year I’ve watched several of the popular idol series, and to my surprise, actually found a lot to enjoy from many of them. However, I’m really glad this film exists at the opposite end of the spectrum to shine a light towards the rotten core of the industry. In that regard I’m glad it exists to be The End Of equivalent to the genre.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 25, 2015 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      While I can see why you might like End of Eva as an alternate view, that view is so hateful that I can’t bring myself to like it. I have a respect for it as a piece of art but I also actively dislike it as a piece of art.

      As for Perfect Blue’s critique of the idol industry, I thought it would resonate with me a lot more than it did actually. I think it might have to do with it being so long ago that it doesn’t hit quite as hard as it would have done if it was critiquing modern idol culture. Still a lot of the same trends but wasn’t as laser focused as it would have been if it came out last year or something.

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