When I lived in Toronto, a friend and I would always go to this one comic book store for anime. This place had a great anime section and the guys who ran the store would shut off whatever was playing and play new stuff just for us. Through them we discovered gems like Cowboy Bebop and Utena, and it was on the strength of their recommendation that we watched Perfect Blue.
I've seen this movie a number of times and I think, on this last viewing, I might finally have it figured out.
Mima is a pop star with the trio Cham but she wants to get into acting and is being pressured by her agent to drop singing all together. When Mima gets a part on a TV crime drama, she leaves singing behind, much to her manager, Rumi's, chagrin. Slowly, Mima sheds her innocent pop star persona, and though she tries to convince herself it's necessary in order to become a real actor, in her heart she hates what she's doing. Mima's delicate psychology is further stressed when she learns about a blog called Mima's Room that details her thoughts and feelings. Soon Mima begins to confuse realities as she becomes secretly obsessed with the blog, using it to fill in the gaps in her own crumbling memories. And then the bodies start piling up and all the victims were involved with Mima's loss of innocence.
As Mima becomes evermore unhinged and unsure about the nature of reality, the film itself becomes more and more disjointed. Mimicking Mima's deteriorating sanity, the movie switches seamlessly between events in the real world, scenes from Double Bind, and Mima's imagination. And when Mima finally comes face-to-face with the truth, when she at last understands what's been happening around her, the film stubbornly clings to its fantasy--Mima is facing down a very real and deadly opponent, but everyone is still trapped halfway between reality and make-believe.
Made in 1998, the film seems a bit dated today, mostly because the Internet is still kind of new for the characters. But the movie still holds up because, I believe, a good story never goes out of style. Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller in a very literal sense. It's brutal, it's bloody, it addresses personality and psychology on a number of levels, and blurs the line between what is real and what is not.
After we watched this movie for the first time, my friend and I turned to each other, mouths agape. "Jesus," I said. "Yeah," came the reply. We were a bit confused by what we'd just seen, but also deeply unsettled because the film is, at times, hard to watch. Because it's anime, we were already one step removed from the film, and the film-within-a-film narrative further alienates the audience from some of action, but Perfect Blue features one very long rape scene and a second attempted rape, and these two moments break down any and all barriers that might separate the audience from what's happening on screen.
It's taken me multiple viewings to fully understand and appreciate everything that's going on in the film, but I don't think the movie's complexity works against it. Perfect Blue asks a lot of its audience and in return delivers a multi-layered thriller about obsession and identity.