It's certainly not the first anime film to do so, but Perfect Blue (パーフェクトブル) is a perfect (pun intended?) example of how animation can convey very real subject matter in an effective way. It's also a pretty good example of not all cartoons being suitable for children. Duh.
Mima (Junko Iwao) is a member of the J-pop trio CHAM! and enjoys a certain amount of success from being arguably the most popular of the group. However, fame and success isn't always as satisfying and fulfilling as it appears to be for us outsiders, and such is the case for Mima. What she really wants to do is to quit singing in an idol group and be taken seriously as an actress. We've all seen that happen with plenty of stars, but it turns out things aren't that easy and making that transition proves to be quite the challenge for Mima and her manager Rumi (Rica Matsumoto). Nevertheless, Rumi gets Mima a small part on a crime-drama called, "Double Bind", and through her perseverance and general likability, she eventually secures herself a larger role. So while things are starting to look good on Mima's end, not everyone is happy about her leaving CHAM! She receives a fax labeling her a traitor and on occasion we see a rather homely looking individual who appears to be stalking Mima. This dude is everywhere she is! The biggest issue coming from those labeling her as a traitor seems to the be the fact that Mima's taken on a complete image overhaul. Her role in, "Double Bind", puts her in provocative situations and I suppose they're angry that her innocence is lost. Listen, I'm trying to think like one of these lunatics okay? Anyway, Mima stumbles across a website (which, keep in mind, was the early days of the internet), called, "Mima's Room", and it eerily details her day-to-day activities in journal format. The only problem, and this is a biggie, is that Mima's not doing the writing. Yeah, creepy stalker alert! As you can imagine, Mima's anxiety and general paranoia of obsessive fans escalates ten-fold and she's constantly looking over her shoulder when she steps outside. She tries her best to keep up with her work responsibilities, which include seductive photo-shoots and questionable acting scenes. The next thing you know, the people associated with tarnishing Mima's image start turning up dead. This just puts Mima in a more vulnerable position, mentally and emotionally and pretty soon she finds herself not being able to differentiate between reality and fantasy. The girl is losing her mind...rightfully so. Is there anyone left that Mima can trust? Who else will turn up dead? Can she find away to snap out of her spiral of madness before it's too late!?
If you couldn't tell by now, Perfect Blue, from renowned anime director Satoshi Kon (may he R.I.P.) is a straight-up psychological thriller that doesn't pull any punches with how it presents it's content. Some have said it's "graphic" at times, I would simply tell those people to stop being sissies. Sure there are some edgy scenes best meant for the 17 and over crowd, but it's nothing you probably haven't seen before in an R-rated movie. The animation itself is top-notch in my opinion. I'm a big fan of Satoshi Kon's style and if I'd seen this movie back when it was released in 1997, it probably would've made my head explode. I mean that in a good way. This movie is all about Mima for the most part and for better or worse the film has a bit of tunnel vision. Meaning that she is the focal point and the movie doesn't really branch out from her. For me, she's not a particularly engaging character, but thankfully the circumstances around her are. Kon and company also do a good job at creating a frightening world of paranoia and a feeling of isolation and just how unsettling that can be. However, when Mima starts to lose her mind, things don't only get a bit muddled for her, but they did for me as well. It's bit difficult trying to follow exactly what's happening, what's real and what's not. If you don't pay attention, you could easily get lost. To their credit though, this confusion doesn't go on for too long before things get clear again. While I didn't find anything to be particularly surprising in terms of story-telling (including the ending), I did find the revelations, and the way in which things played out, satisfying.
Perfect Blue might not seem like anything revolutionary these days, but I imagine that for it's time it was pretty extreme. Fourteen years later I'd have to say that it holds up quite well as a complete package. It's dark, edgy, not without it's flaws, but most importantly it's fairly well-executed. Check this one out, but I wouldn't recommend it for family movie night. (Lee)