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Film
Mima Kirigoe, one third of girl group Cham, who boasts the most loyal and devoted fanbase of the three performers, decides to strike out on her and leave behind the pop world to study as a serious actress. While this vocation change pleases her manager, Tadakoro, as there’s little money in the music business, her advisor and confidante Rumi, herself a former idoru (idol) has no hesitation in trying to dissuade her charge.

Perfect Blue
Refusing to be swayed, Mima announces her intentions at a surprise farewell Cham concert, prompting disfigured devotee and number one fan Mr Me-Mania to take an unhealthy interest in her prospective projects. Angered when the wonderfully wholesome Mima takes a small part in sensationalist thriller series Double Bind and additionally incensed when the aspiring actress’ role requires being victimised in a shocking rape scene, Me-Mania tries to take charge of the object of his affection’s career course with some fatal consequences. Or does he?

It’s at this point, after a relatively sedate opening act, that things start to become very strange indeed. Having taken the role in Double Bind against the advice of her friend Rumi, Mima begins to experience hallucinations of an alternative self, a ‘good’ Mima who still wants to be a pop idol and finds the work as an actress degrading and distasteful. Mima, through Rumi, is introduced to the internet and made aware of an internet site dedicated purely to her, adroitly named Mima’s Room, where the author seems to know all too much about her. What begins as a fun fan site becomes a disturbing online diary, even detailing activities that Mima has yet to carry out.

With rapid cuts and effective use of the narrative ‘film within a film’ device as the plot of Mima’s TV series mirrors (or not) the events in her life, the audience is constantly asked to question which incidents are imaginary as Mima’s grip on reality begins to slip away, her anxiety and the body count rising to a (literally) breathless climax which would be unforgivable to spoil here. Indeed, a great deal of the enjoyment of the movie is taken up with trying to work out exactly what the hell is going on; debut director Satoshi Kon provides enough hooks to leave the audience dangling, all the while masterfully balancing on the fine line between explaining too much and being too obtuse.

Perfect Blue
Unfortunately, with echoes of Psycho’s payoff, in trying to provide a satisfying resolution at the climax, Kon ties up loose ends a little too neatly with an extended chase sequence which, while exciting, one can’t help thinking a more ambiguous ending might have been better served. However, this is a minor gripe in a quite superb suspenseful thriller which will leave you ruminating long after the credits roll. In fact, like convoluted classics Memento or Usual Suspects, Perfect Blue is the kind of movie you’ll immediately want to watch again, such are the possible plot permutations prior to the payoff.

Video
The image is bright and clean, letterboxed at 1.78:1. Colours are sharp and vivid with good contrast and detail; note the beautiful red of virtual Mima’s costume separated from the pink of her flesh tones with no bleeding apparent. Shadow detail is acceptable, though nothing to write home about, and blacks really are not as deep as they should be. Therefore while characters are nicely defined, interiors are somewhat bland (perhaps this is director Satoshi Kon’s intention as he states in an interview, elsewhere on the DVD, that he didn’t want any single scene to ‘stand out’) and the scenes where Mr Me-Mania chases Mima are a little murky for their own good. Thankfully subtitles are clear, simple to read and grammatically error free.

Overall, a decent transfer but nothing about which to be excited.

Audio
As I was hoping for a suitably eerie soundstage for the disorienting nature of the material, the original Japanese 5.1 track is a little, well, disappointing. Even in the crowd scenes where Cham perform, there is very little use of the rear channels which leaves the whole film seeming somewhat flat, most activity focused on the centre speaker. That said, during scenes of filming Double Bind’s nightclub rape act, Mima’s ear-piercing screams are effectively directed to both front and rear sets of speakers; what is already an uncomfortable passage becomes all the more disturbing as there’s literally no escape from the shrill protestations. Granted, this is a dialogue-centric movie and speech is well represented by being clear in the mix but the presentation really does leave you wanting more.

Perfect Blue
In addition to the Japanese version is an English dub in two versions; 5.1 and two channel stereo. I generally prefer the original dub of any film and while the English voice actors are certainly not the worst, there’s still nothing to persuade me that, in this case, the Japanese is not intrinsically better. In fact, as an example of the nuances that can be manipulated through the voice-acting is the character of Mr Me-Mania. Where American actor Bob Marks gives the slimy stalker a cartoon (pun intended) feel with a rather over-heated performance, the Japanese actor delivers a far more restrained reading which makes the unhinged fan all the more sinister.

Extras
Effectively expanding on the theme of ‘Mima’s Room’ as explored in the movie, the DVD extras, presented in 4:3 and 2.0 stereo, are accessed with some nifty internet-style web page interfaces.

Easily the most extensive extra on the disc is the selection of interviews with several cast members and director/co-writer Satoshi Kon. Kon comes across as a terribly shy, modest man and while the questions are never problematic or difficult to answer, he does require some prompting to go beyond the obvious response and reveal his true thoughts on the selection of the voice actors, the production process and his contribution as director (he wanted to make the narrative even more confusing!). Definitely one extra to view after the feature as he gives away much of the rationale behind the plot twists.

In contrast Junko Iwao (Japanese Mima) provides a fascinatingly accessible insight into the intricacies of the voice actor. Indeed, it’s particularly interesting to note the parallels between Iwao and the character she portrays; well known as an idoru (idol) of anime in Japan, she lent her voice artist skills to several young audience animated series. Wishing to broaden her horizons, she illustrates that Perfect Blue was her first ‘adult’ feature and details her trepidation at whether she could bridge the gap and how such a big leap would be viewed by her loyal fanbase. An engaging subject, Iwao demonstrates the level of preparation required to be undertaken by the voice actors.

Perfect Blue
In addition to the two above interviews are soundbites from the English voices behind Mr Me-Mania (Bob Marks), Rumi (Wendy Lee) and Mima (Ruby Marlow), each lasting 2 minutes presented against clips from the movie. While each is a respected voice actor in his or her own right, it is clear that none have approached the project with quite the same intensity as the Japanese cast nor, in highlighting the difference of Western culture, does any have a qualm respectively interpreting a disfigured psycho stalker, a bitter former pop star or a confused ingenue.

The photo gallery exhibits a scrolling slideshow of images from the movie. As with many such galleries as DVD extras I was hoping for some behind the scenes stuff rather than simply a collection of stills cribbed from the feature. Particularly with animated releases, it’s always good to see early sketches, character designs and storyboards to get a feel of how the project developed. Sadly, there’s none of that here.

There is some behind the scenes material, although this only takes the form of studio footage, capturing the recording of the typically trite but quite charming Cham theme pop song in Japanese. Unfortunately, as none of the three, admittedly lovely, Japanese ladies are introduced, the viewer will be left in the dark as to whether the voice artists for Rei and Yukiko actually lent their vocals to the songs. What is made clear is that although Iwao professes to enjoy singing, as revealed in her interview, her voice is not represented in the Cham tunes. The theme song is also available in an English version, this time without studio footage.

Completing the extra material is a Manga DVD/video product catalogue and links for the Manga and Perfect Blue web sites.

A competent batch of extras, enlivened by the animated menu system, with the definite highlight being Junko Iwao’s interview or the studio footage, depending on how endearing you find J-Pop.

Perfect Blue
Overall
Released in 1997, based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, it should be noted that Perfect Blue is not only remarkably prescient in foretelling the extreme lengths that celebrity internet shrines would encompass but also playful in its depiction of the benefits and restrictions of the Japanese idoru culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than Mima’s dedication to delivering a realistic performance in the Double Bind rape scene, a sequence made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that she’s trying so hard in order to prove she can be an actress of some standing as there is pressure for her to resist.

Perhaps this is the crux that, for me at least, makes Perfect Blue so impressive. Anime has, sometimes justifiably, been criticised for its preponderance of the phantasmal over the personal (Metropolis anyone?), for favouring style over substance. In no way can this argument be levelled at this movie. Comparisons with Hitchcock are easily made (Psycho is alluded to above and some of the same themes were also explored in Vertigo) and there is one homage to Hitch’s Rear Window in the final act where Mima clings to her balcony in an effort to escape her ‘virtual’ nemesis.

If you’re looking for a thriller to glue you to the edge of your seat, there’s little higher praise than that. Competently presented here on DVD by Manga with a technically proficient disc featuring some reasonable extras, let’s hope the forthcoming live-action remake doesn’t dilute the power of this animated original.


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