Satashi Kon died of pancreatic cancer on August 24. Although just 46 years old, writer-director Kon became a giant of Japanese animation, with just four feature films to his credit. His first film, a psychological thriller, earned him a dedicated cult audience in the United States. Perfect Blue (1999) follows girl-pop band singer Mima as she transitions from a career in music into acting. At her agent’s suggestion, she leaves her band and trades in her virginal image for a sexier look to take the lead in a television drama. Her new look doesn’t please all of her fans, and soon a shadowy figures begins stalking her. Mima finds that someone has been posting intimate details of her personal life on the internet. Later, the creators of her new image – her photographer and the TV drama’s writer – are found stabbed to death. Most disturbing, though, is Mima’s growing concern that her stalker is actually a physical manifestation of her own former persona as pop idol.
If you thought that all animation had to be for kids, this movie will shatter that idea. There is absolutely nothing about Perfect Blue that is appropriate for tots. It is an adult film, with sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, psychoanalysis, brutal violence and an ever-present aura of menace about it. Combining the mystery, suspense and danger of the Italian horror film s by Dario Argento with Japanese anime’s surreal storytelling, the film is an interest examination of celebrity obsession. Writer-director Satashi Kon uses animation not just as his medium of expression but also as the way inside of Mima’s delicate psyche, experiencing her doubts and fears.
The filmmaker employs rapid cuts and the narrative “film within a film” device, so the plot of Mima’s TV series mirrors (or not) the events in her life. Indeed, a great deal of one’s enjoyment of the movie involves trying to figure out exactly what is going on. Walking a fine line between giving too much away and being too obtuse, Kon asks the viewer to decide which incidents are imaginary and which are real. Many considered his subject matter risky for the genre of animation (even for the more experimental Japanese anime), but Kon’s approach to storytelling – letting a mystery be truly mysterious – was equally refreshing.
- by Jonathan Lewis