As an Anime fan, people often ask me for recommendations of what kind of Anime they might like. My response is usually, "Well, what kind of MOVIES do you like?" One of the best things about this wonderful Japanese art form is the sheer variety of titles available. There are comedies, dramas, science fiction, adventures, horror, and yes, even pornography. For the horror fan, an excellent introduction to Anime is Satoshi Kon's psychological thriller Perfect Blue, released on DVD by Manga Entertainment in 2000. If you don't believe an animated film can create thrills and tension, take a step into Mima's Room.
Mimarin Kirigoe (voice of Junko Iwao) is the frontwoman of the hugely popular pop trio Cham, but she's leaving the band to start an acting career. This decision doesn't sit well with anyone; not her agents who have trained and groomed her as a singer, and especially not her legions of fans. Mima receives threatening faxes and letters, including a letter bomb that seriously injures one of her agents. And she learns just how obsessed some of her fans are when Rumi (Rika Matsumoto) introduces her to the Internet and the fan site "Mima's Room."
Mima's acting career begins slowly, with a single line of dialogue on the TV drama Double Bind. She sees a chance for advancement when she films a daring rape scene, which only enrages her fans and agents even more. The postings in "Mima's Room^" become more and more negative, and even worse, someone claiming to be Mima is posting her daily routine, in startling detail. She soon begins seeing reflections of herself, but not her real self; it's the old pop singer Mima that appears in her mirror now, and she's taken on a life of her own.
Mima begins having serious problems distinguishing reality from fantasy when her pop idol self begins showing up at inopportune times. She is engulfed in paranoia, as her supposed messages in "Mima's Room" seem to be written not by her but by the imaginary Mima. Complicating matters even further is a murderer that's killing those responsible for her new image. And just who is that weird stalker guy that's following Mima around?
Animated or not, this is an amazing movie. The blend of the real and the imaginary is a perfect candidate for an animated tale. Mima's fantasies get so bizarre, the story would suffer immensely if done live-action (though a rumored live-action version is in the works anyway. Sigh.). The alternate Mima, the eternal pop singer, bounces, glides, and giggles, lending serious doubts to her sanity. And yet, this is all balanced by having a well-developed real Mima, too. At times, you almost forget she's animated, especially in the harrowing rape scene. Even though she is only acting in that scene, it's still tough to watch. With the real Mima so believable, the imaginary Mima only becomes more unsettling.
The Japanese fascination with the idol singer is a key element to the story. There seems to be an endless parade of these bubblegum pop singers in Japan, and very few have long careers. This short shelf life obviously affects Mima. She's been trained as a singer, but begins an acting career for a longer stay in the fickle public eye. Through all of this, we see Mima as little more than a child, who has gotten involved in events that are way over her head. Again, this enables her delusions to have that much more impact.
In the end, what you have is just a fantastic psycho-thriller that really has the ability to mess with your mind. I realize a lot of people are not familiar with Japanese animation, but trust me, this one will have you thinking more of Dario Argento's Opera than Pokemon. At its core, it's a basic murder mystery, with a nice combination of real and imaginary horrors to keep the viewer on his toes. And this film is also quite influential on American filmmakers too; a scene in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream was taken directly from Perfect Blue. I'll let the viewers find that one themselves.
With Anime, there is always the issue of English dubbed soundtracks versus Japanese language with subtitles. I'll discuss the actual quality of sound later, but the language is in important issue. Technically, ALL animated films are dubbed, so should the spoken language really matter? Well, it does. For one thing, the Japanese voice actors take their craft VERY seriously, and it shows. Their voices always seem much more natural than the English dubbers do, and Perfect Blue is a classic example. The lip movements match the Japanese soundtrack much moreso than the English does. And the idol singer storyline, so entrenched in Japanese pop culture, makes the Japanese language fit in so much better. The sickeningly sweet songs of Cham are typical Japanese pop, but become laughable in English since we really have no equivalent of that style of music. Even though the English voice actors did do a good job here (better than usual dubs), you need to hear Perfect Blue in its native language to really appreciate it.
Manga Entertainment presents Perfect Blue in its theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, although not enhanced for anamorphic displays. The look of the film is very sharp and well defined, with many distinct solid black outlines. Other Anime movies, such as Princess Mononoke, try for a much softer "realistic" look, but this film carries a more harsher "modern art" feel to it. Actually, that fits in well with the storyline, since Mima feels she has a sharply defined persona that she will be unable to break out of. The color scheme relies on fairly simple solid hues, well represented here. I thought the black level was a little off, more of a dark grey, but that's a minor complaint. It can be hard to judge the image quality of an animated film (while I have seen plenty of Anime, I am by no means an expert), since it's not based on reality to begin with. Perfect Blue is not as gorgeous as Mononoke or Metropolis (which was much more computer-driven), but it's still a fine looking animated film, and this disc captures that look quite well.
In a step up from previous Manga releases, Perfect Blue is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English and Japanese. Previously, even on some of their more popular titles (Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll) only the English was given the full 5.1 Surround treatment. If you wanted the natural language, you were stuck with a dull 2-channel soundtrack. Not so with Perfect Blue. Unfortunately however, little use is made of the 5.1. Surrounds barely get any work at all. The bizarre music does make use of the front soundstage very well, but a more enveloping sound could be even more effective. The dialogue in both languages is very clear. Cham's music is quite tinny and harsh, but that is probably a comment on the "canned" music that is so popular in Japan.
Manga provided a nice little selection of supplements, in the cleverly designed "Mima's Room" section on the DVD. Now, some of the things in Mima's Room are only advertisements for other Manga products, but the rest is all Perfect Blue material. The "Cham in the Studio" feature is a full-length clip in the recording studio of the Cham song used in the movie. It's actually kind of dull, but not as dull as the English version of the song, which is played over a still of the movie.
The English voice-actors provide some interviews, though these too are only audio clips played over top of movie scenes. While I did like the effort that they put forth, the English actors are not as compelling as the Japanese, so these interviews weren't too important to me. And I'm not sure I agree with Ruby Marlow's (the English Mima) assessment of the character. Whichever language you prefer however, be sure to only listen to these interviews AFTER seeing the film.
Junko Iwao, the Japanese voice actress (seiyuu) for Mima is interviewed on camera. It's amazing just how shy and soft-spoken she is, and not at all like Mima (although she does identify with the character). And finally, Satoshi Kon provides a lengthy (10 minutes) interview about the making of the film, which is much more technically oriented, and less about the content of the film itself.
A series of "stills" is available, which seems ironic in that ALL animation is just a series of stills. So it's just frames from the movie, with captions underneath. I was more hoping for original sketches and character designs, something found on several Anime releases. In the main menu, there is a live-action scene of an artist working on the movie. I'd love to see some more "making-of" bits in their entirety, but for some reason they were not included. And finally, the theatrical trailer (along with the a preview of other Manga titles) is on here, but is a little tricky to find. Look in the "Links" and select "perfectblue.com" to view the trailer.
For horror and thriller fans, Perfect Blue is a great introduction to the world of Japanese animation (WARNING: Anime is a very addictive and expensive hobby. Take with caution). A lot of Anime that contains horror themes can become extremely abstract (try Serial Experiments: Lain if you'd like to see just how abstract it can get) which is a major turn-off to newcomers. But the story of Perfect Blue is ideal for those unfamiliar with the genre, yet it has enough twists and distortions for the rabid fans (otaku) as well. Also, Manga has made this disc very friendly for first-timers with high quality English and Japanese tracks, as well as interviews with those involved with the film. Essential viewing.
Movie - A
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - B
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