Welcome to The AniMAYtion Challenge, where Ashe and Branden review one animated film every weekend throughout the month of May. Each film was chosen in draft style, with Ashe recieving the first pick of round one. With the first pick of the 2015 AniMAYtion Challenge, Ashe Collins selects Perfect Blue from 1997.

Perfect Blue PosterTitle: Perfect Blue (1997)
Director: Satoshi Kon
Runtime: 81 minutes

When Branden came to me a few weeks ago asking my thoughts on watching animated films for May after the hell in the Asylum, I got really excited. I love animated films from all different places, in all sorts of genres, and intended for very different audiences. I was definitely going to skew towards a lot of anime, and I’ve tried to throw in a few American and Canadian made films as well, but when he decided to have us pick, like a draft class, one film popped into my head, and I knew I had to review it as my first choice.

Perfect Blue.

When I look back on my anime obsession, there are a number of films that stand out. Some were from my first taste with Ralph Bakshi’s introduction of them in a Sci-Fi Channel animation special, and others I picked up on a whim, or through word of mouth. Then there are those I grabbed up because of fan made anime music videos from conventions. I can’t honestly tell you where I found Perfect Blue. I’ve had the Manga-produced DVD for the film since I’ve owned a DVD player, so around fifteen years now. My wife and I loved it from the first viewing. It’s one of those anime films that we show to any of our friends who have never seen it. It is not a DVD we lend out, however. This is one of those movies I doubt would make it back, and considering it’s not something easy to find in the United States on DVD or Blu-ray right now, you can see why.

Perfect Blue is one of the first films I think of though when someone tries to tell me that the animated film is something just for kids and isn’t something that can reach an adult audience. This is that film that can prove that person wrong, easily, within its short runtime that accomplishes more in under an hour and a half than some live-action thrillers manage in two and a half hours. Perfect Blue isn’t just an exceptionally animated movie, it’s just an overall fantastically crafted film that any horror or psychological thriller buff should and can love.

The film follows former pop idol and singer-turned-actress Mima Kirigoe, who ditches her pop idol career to focus on acting and ends up with a small role on a controversial TV series. Her fans revolt and some even threaten her life. This doesn’t deter her agent who looks to increase her role on the television drama involving an ongoing police murder investigation. The producers buck against her agent, saying there isn’t much they can do with a pop idol, but her agent swears she’s shed that life, and wants to reinvent herself and her career.

The television producers craft a graphic rape scene that any actress would balk at, but because her agent is new to the acting end of things, and Mima doesn’t want to make waves, it goes ahead. Mima starts to crack a bit after that, seeing her old pop idol image in places taunting her. When those involved in crafting that scene start to be found murdered, Mima is driven to paranoia. She starts seeing a stalker everywhere she goes, and someone is keeping an accurate blog online of her daily and personal activities, but she’s not writing it. The walls of reality start blurring for her and the television show. Her own reality, and her former life as a pop idol start to blend together as she spirals ever further down, all the while wondering if she’ll be next to be found dead.

Satoshi Kon’s adaptation of the novel is both gripping and intense, and like our lead character, the audience is left wondering where reality begins and where it ends. The pacing and visuals in this are amazing. They’ve influenced a number of directors over the years, but most notably Darren Aronofsky, whose inspirations from the film can be seen in The Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. This is most definitely not a kid-friendly film, and is very much geared toward adults. The version I own is the unrated version that wouldn’t have even gotten an R-rating. It’s pretty graphic, and even though it’s animated, it still makes me cringe during many of the more intense scenes.

Then there are the musical choices throughout the film. While I do love the pop idol songs that are included in the film, there’s this use of melody and tone throughout that helps add to the visual atmosphere. Then on top of that we have some great song choices as well that fit right in with a number of scenes. And, as if to clue in with what our lead is going through, one of her last songs as a pop idol is used throughout as a reminder of how far down the rabbit hole she’s fallen, as well as taunting various victims throughout the film. I did watch this with the English voice cast, who aren’t bad at all. There are a few minor players you see time and again who play her fans, and never really interact with her to get the tone from around the country on what’s going on, but they’re pretty decent as well. They also translated the songs from Japanese into English, so it doesn’t take you out of the film if you’re watching it that way. If you can find it with the Manga dubbing, I recommend it either way as this is a film that works no matter what language you’re watching it in.

On top of being a psychological thriller, Satoshi Kon also explores a few other themes with the film. One is the transition from pop idol to actress, but also what actresses might end up having to endure, as well as some of the more demeaning things that can go on in the pop culture scene, a lot of which still carries over today. We also get an exploration of what guides us to think of ourselves and who we want to be, and how much of that can be influenced by outside forces. There is a lot of meat to this film, and it delivers it in such a way that it’s not preachy about any of it, but does get you thinking, and lets you run with it yourself, much the same way as the paranoia of the lead character plays out.

So if you’re in need of smacking someone upside their collective head for bashing animation as a film medium for anyone, look to Perfect Blue first. This is a charged psychological thriller that has the audience wondering throughout if the lead character isn’t simply losing her mind, or if there’s actually someone after her. The animation looks just as good as when I first watched it fifteen years ago, the pacing is perfect, and the blurred lines between Mima’s reality and her paranoia she’s displaying work perfectly to create an electric and foreboding atmosphere that keeps building throughout the film.