On the 11th Day of Christmas, my true love gave to–hahaha…hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
Juusst kidding! Expect more 12 Days posts in the upcoming days, we’ve been slightly delayed by holiday commitments and finals exhaustion. In the meantime, as part as Reverse Thieves’s Secret Santa project I’ve chosen to write a bit about Satoshi Kon’s famous 1997 thriller, Perfect Blue. The other two options were the (apparently nuts) Hatsukoi Limited and the very well-made Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. Had I not been completely flooded in work in the past few weeks I might have had a fighting chance at writing something on Moribito, but such was not to be! Maybe expect a post about it in the near future, along with maybe a post on Hatsukoi if I get around to it, considering I’ve heard interesting things about that show.
If you’ve been an anime fan for a certain amount of time, you’ve probably heard of Perfect Blue. It was the film that put its director Satoshi Kon (may he rest in piece) on the map, and from the very first all the elements of his style are there. Multiple, dizzying layers of fact and fiction, the line between artifice and reality, the horrifying social malaise in the shadows of modern Japan and the attempts of women (here a former idol who has chosen to become an actress, because being an idol is a dead-end job) to break out of said malaise and forge their own destinies. In contrast to the Oscar-worthy character study of Millenium Actress, the science-fiction pyrotechnics of Paprika or the surreal Christmas landscape of Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue is a thriller through and through. One that deals head-on with stalkers, abuse physical and sexual, the seediness of Japan’s entertainment industry and (on a stranger note) multiple personalities, killers of the mind and the sort of psychodrama you’d expect from a Hitchcock film or Thomas Harris novel. The film opens with a reference to Silence of the Lambs, in case you weren’t sure what you were getting yourself in for; it never becomes that gruesome, but the film’s nerve-wracking throughout and shockingly violent at times.
For all its acclaim, Perfect Blue isn’t as tightly made as Satoshi Kon’s later efforts. The detailed visual symbolism present in films like Millenium Actress is present here too, but while that film was a lot more subtle Perfect Blue really beats you over the head with its themes. I won’t spoil the resolution to the central mystery (though I was surprised by it) but I thought the film actually ended on a bit of a lame note, too much of a tonal swing from the oppressiveness that dominated the rest of the movie. Half of why the film is so terrifying (and believe me, it is) is that it makes you take every step of her mental breakdown along with her, and I thought the end of the movie prioritized the solution of the mystery over her own development, not to its benefit. A film that is for the most part Kon firing on all cylinders deserves something more honest and thorough than a wink at the camera.
All that said, Perfect Blue is a far angrier film than Millennium Actress and its ilk. The latter could afford to be subtle, but Kon is taking swing at big issues here: issues that for all intents and purposes continue to haunt Japan’s entertainment industry as well as its society itself. Though the film was made in the 90s, it’s shocking how much of it holds up today, from the enforced “graduation” and careful management of AKB48 to the slavering male fans who consume everything they do and criticize their every move. If Kon goes a little over the top, it’s a little hard to fault him considering what’s at stake, and you can feel in every scene that Kon cares a lot about his subject. It’s sentiment hardly unique to the Japanese entertainment industry–just look at how much weight we assign to female pop stars in the United States–but Kon’s attempt to wrestle the contradictions of his society to the ground here results in some of the best work of his oeuvre. Only Paranoia Agent is really as ambitious in tackling social issues, and Perfect Blue is for the most part more consistently executed and tighter written.
Overall I’d say Perfect Blue deserves its reputation as a classic and deserves to be watched by as many people as possible (so long as they can handle it!) I’m not sure if it’s the best thing he’s done–it’s certainly not as polished as his other work–but for what it’s worth, it might be the rawest of his films and easily the one that draws the most blood. If his later films represent Kon at the height of his powers, Perfect Blue is Kon with something to prove, and it’s all the better for it.
EDIT: So it turns out that the third anime I was recommended was not Hatsukoi Limited but instead Futakoi Alternative. Knew the show I was talking about, totally mixed up the names! Sorry about that.