Twenty years on, Perfect Blue remains an almost perfect thriller.
A Hitchcockian study of identity, desire, and obsession recast in animated form, the film goes to some twisted places that even the Master of Suspense might shy away from.
Mima (voiced by Junko Iwao) is lead singer in the cutesy J-Pop quartet CHAM!, who, at the age of twenty-one, is looking to make a career move into acting. However, Mima finds that giving up her wholesome teen idol image is fraught in complexity. Joining the cast of crime series Double Bind, she finds her whole identity rendered pliable.
Called upon to take part in a nude photo shoot and a rape scene that, in its intense staginess, has the air of a panic attack, Mima is persecuted by twin spectres: one, the floating, giggling sprite of her former self; the other, a slack-jawed, lumpy-faced fan who could be stalker or saviour. And then the murders begin. The blur between role and reality blurs until Mima, sequestered in her small apartment with her goldfish and her first computer, finds herself on the verge of psychosis.
Directed by the late great Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue also draws inspiration from the likes of Phillip K. Dick and Terry Gilliam: there’s a delirious, dream-like quality, such us in the blank faces of Mima’s adoring crowds, that add to the sense of disorientation. Where do the characters end and Mimi begin? Just when you think you have things sorted out in your head, the film pivots 180 degrees; like a shifting house of mirrors.
With splashes of red amid the placid blue that would drive Marnie wild, the film deconstructs celebrity culture, the male gaze, and different types of exploitation; including the stop-and-start shooting of a rape scene, whose blend of matter-of-fact professionalism and apology almost induced a panic attack.
Ultimately, Perfect Blue is about overcoming passivity, rejecting the personas that work and society try to force upon us in favour of our true selves. The alternative is almost too terrifying to contemplate.
Perfect Blue is now on general rerelease in UK cinemas.