Perfect Blue (1999)

“What am I watching?” is a question that rang through my head several times while watching Perfect Blue, the animated psychological thriller by Satoshi Kon—with an emphasis on the “psychological.” The film, which makes us constantly question what is actually happening, deals primarily with the psychological state of its protagonist after it is altered for the worse after a trauma. What’s real? What’s fake? And who, if anyone, is messing with her?

That protagonist is Mima (voice of Junko Iwao), who begins the film as the lead singer of a pop group. She wants to transition into acting and is going to retire. After doing so, and landing a job on a crime drama, she winds up enacting a traumatizing scene which fractures her psyche. She begins being unable to distinguish fact from fiction and reality from the TV show. She might have a stalker. She might have multiple personalities. She might. She might. We watch her struggle with this, the narration becomes very unreliable, and we often can’t figure out precisely what’s going on.

The film works best when it’s altering its style to get us into the same sort of headspace as its protagonist. It shifts from place to place sometimes without any transition or indication that one is real and one is fake, and we’re left to our own devices to determine if what we’re seeing is true. It’s thrilling, the mystery is engaging, and we’re kept on our toes. As a psychological mystery thriller, Perfect Blue is a very effective film. It keeps us entertained, and that’s one of the main reasons we watch movies.

It doesn’t do a whole lot else, though—maybe it doesn’t need to. It has some themes to chew on, like the aforementioned fact/fiction and the way that we view The Celebrity, but it doesn’t really have a lot to say if it doesn’t service the thrills. It also doesn’t really have a particularly interesting protagonist—she’s a former pop star who wants to act and has some fish and … there isn’t a whole lot more to her, beyond the whole “I can’t tell what’s real” point. The film is almost singlehandedly focused on that once it happens that it doesn’t give time for almost anything else. It’s a short movie, too, and probably could have used that time to expand upon her as a person.

If I feel down on Perfect Blue at all it’s not because it’s an ineffective thriller.

The reveal at the end also leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t know if it’s possible for any reveal like the one featured here to be anything but disappointing, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. It leads to a bland action scene and a poor conclusion. Maybe it’s just because it feels too “Hollywood” for a movie like this. This is a strange movie that needed a different kind of conclusion.

If there’s one element to Perfect Blue that is almost undeniably awesome, it’s the animation. Satoshi Kon doesn’t make animation that looks poor, and this film has a great style, is very detailed, and simply looks fantastic. It’s a mature animated film, which is always fun to see, and that animation allows for a greater and more effective blur between reality and fantasy. Some of the shots that are created here simply would not work in live-action; they’d have to be reworked into something that probably wouldn’t look as good.

If I feel down on Perfect Blue at all it’s not because it’s an ineffective thriller. In the moment, it works really well; it keeps you guessing from the second the trauma happens right up until we find out exactly what’s going on. But it doesn’t have a ton to chew on and its ending feels too “Hollywood” for the rest of the production. Still, it looks great and it’s more than entertaining enough. It just leaves on a disappointing note and doesn’t have a ton of staying power.

Conclusion: Perfect Blue is a solid thriller with a lackluster ending.

Recommendation: Perfect Blue is worth seeing if you’re a fan of animation or psychological thrillers.

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