Perfect Blue

Review - a surreal pyschological thriller which proves that anime isn't just about naked chicks, big robots and tentacled demons

- Satoshi Kon Screenplay - Sadayuki Murai / Yoshikazu Takeuchi Filmed - Japan, 1997 DVD by - Manga Video

"Excuse Me, Who Are You?"

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"Yes, that's right - I'm a model." Or is it an actress? Or a pop idol? Or a schizophrenic serial killer?

Since cult classic Akira introduced the west to the joys of japanimation a steady stream of adult anime has poured across the Pacific, and more recent hits like Princess Mononoke and Ghost In The Shell have helped to prove that cartoons aren't just for kids.

While most anime seems to involve giant robots, schoolgirls, big hairy demons or preferably some combination of the above, Perfect Blue is an entirely different beast though. A tense and at times utterly surreal psychological thriller set in contemporary Tokyo, it follows the life of Mima Kirigoe, a 21 year old J-Pop idol who leaves kitsch girl band Cham to forge a new career in acting.

But as she comes under increasing stress and her role in the gory TV series Double Bind becomes darker and more confusing, so her grip on reality starts to slip. Where does the show end and her real life begin? Who is the obsessive fan stalking her, and how does the website "Mima's Room" know so much about her? To make matters even worse she is haunted by her former pop idol persona, and a string of brutal murders is starting to scythe its way through the people who have worked with her since she left Cham...

"Now That's Weird"

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The projection slasher scene

The plot is labyrinthine to say the least, with more twists and turns than a whole shelf-full of Fight Clubs. The imagery is dream-like and full of false awakenings, meaning that you are never entirely sure how much of what you are seeing is "real", how much is part of Double Bind, and how much is simply happening in Mima's head.

The result is a disturbing and thought provoking film that is more than a match for many of the live-action thrillers to come out of Hollywood in recent years. This is no Lion King - the violence is pretty gruesome even by anime standards and there is full frontal nudity in places, not to mention two fairly graphic rape scenes (one of them staged for Double Bind, and one of them presumably real).

None of it is particularly gratuitous though, as it all adds to the growing sense of unreality surrounding Mima as her life fall to pieces. The violence is usually highly stylised, at times owing more to Hitchcock than it does to other anime movies, from a brutal stabbing in front of a projector screen showing stills from Double Bind to the scene in which posters of Mima on the walls of a fan's bedroom start to talk to him. Overall the effect is little short of stunning.

"Ooh, I Like That Expression"

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Mima in full pop idol mode

Although the actual animation in Perfect Blue is mostly well above average by anime standards, it's not consistent throughout. A few scenes are so sparsely detailed that it almost looks as though a place-holder shot has been left in there by mistake, with virtually flat-shaded faces and little or no movement. To be fair these are mostly unimportant crowd shots and the like, but it can be a little jarring if you are more used to Disney than anime when it comes to cartoon movies.

Apart from these few lapses though the art quality is generally excellent, with some great use of reflection, focus and lighting, especially when the ghostly pop idol version of Mima puts in an appearance, bouncing along with her feet barely touching the ground. The soundtrack is also impressive, from the cheesey upbeat pop of Cham to the dark brooding electronic background music that accompanies the rest of the film.

Overall Perfect Blue is something of a triumph for the Japanese film industry - a serious adult anime movie with excellent direction, an imaginative script and some beautiful animation. The frequent sex and violence means that it's not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach, but if you are looking for a thriller with brains (and we're not just talking about the ones splattered all over the walls), this is well worth a look.

The Disc

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Heavy breathing

The Region 2 release from Manga UK features a "digitally remastered" version of the movie. Given that Perfect Blue is only a few years old and should have been fine as it was we're not entirely sure what this means, but the result is generally pretty good, spoilt only by a few minor blemishes in a couple of scenes.

On the audio side you have a choice of the original Japanese soundtrack (with optional English subtitles) or a dubbed English version. Anime purists will no doubt appreciate the presence of the Japanese version, but to be honest the English dubbing is so good that there's little reason to watch it in its original language - after all, lip-synching has never been a high priority in anime for some reason, and so it makes little difference which language you watch it in. The only real disappointment was the rather silly voice of "Mr Me-Mania", but otherwise the dubbing is faultless and at times better than the rather squeaky Japanese dialogue.

The disc also features a whole plethora of special features, most of which are grouped in a "Mima's Room" menu based on the fan site in the film. This features a gallery of stills from the movie ("my favourite photos"), adverts for other Manga releases ("my favourite DVDs") and interviews with the film's director and some of the voice actors used on the English dubbing. There is also a video of a J-Pop band in the studio singing one of Cham's songs, and another option marked "English Title Song" that locks up when I try to access it, which could be down to a faulty disc.

Otherwise the DVD is a solid effort from Manga, and well worth getting hold of if you don't already have this movie in your collection. Film - 8/10 Disc - 7/10 Availability -

Note - All information is correct at time of writing, but prices and availability may change. If you find any broken links or other problems, please let us know.

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