Thursday, January 5, 2012

Possibly The Best Anime For Those Who Don't Like The Genre, Perfect Blue!

The Good: Plot, Character, Twists
The Bad: Rewatchability, Dated quality
The Basics: When Mima gives up her life as a pop star, she finds her world being turned up-side down by those who liked her just the way she was.

I am not much of a fan of anime. I'll be honest about that up front. I like seeing real actors do real things. Anime, as a genre, tends to rob characters of expressiveness (no facial expressions, less appreciation of body language), have pointless and gratuitous violence and sex (I'm not big on complaining about these things, but in anime, often it lacks purpose or sense), and they tend to run thin on stories. Perfect Blue is rightly billed as a drama, as it strives to overcome many of these typical deficiencies in the genre in general.

When Mima, a pop star from the teen trio Cham, decides to give up singing in order to act, she does so with the disappointment of her die hard fans and against the advice of Rumi, one of her two managers. As she begins her acting debut on a television series called "Double Bind," her life begins to spiral out of control as she is tormented by a deranged fan and discovers an alternate version of herself in cyberspace, begging her to return to singing. The alternate knows disturbing levels of detail about her life and the borders between reality and fantasy begin to blur a condition exacerbated by her role on "Double Bind."

This is a psychological thriller that happens to be an anime. Unlike most anime, the violence in this is pretty much in line with the story (and the magnitude of most psychological thrillers) and the nudity is minimal, but also integral to where the character is in her spiral out of control. So, outside of the actual drawings, Perfect Blue does not feel like an animated piece. It's fairly easy to get into the characters - and they actually do have character, complete with backstory - and the direction of the movie feels very much like a thriller. In other words, this cartoon - like most anime - is not for children.

In fact, the only way the anime works to the detriment of this story is through the lack of ability to show complex facial expressions. The style of animation drains Perfect Blue of some of its human context. Flesh and blood actors would have been able to more able to emote more profound levels of emotion than the animation could bring out here. Still, within the confines of what may be done with animation, Perfect Blue is impressive for how it pushes away from anime. And besides, some of the most elegant sequences (the chase of the alternate, for example), would have been very difficult to do so well in reality.

What makes Perfect Blue worth watching is that it is an intriguing story with a catchy premise. This is the story of one young woman making a change in her life and suffering the consequences of it through a force she barely understands. One of the few moments of humor in the movie occurs when Mima is introduced to the internet by Rumi. Rumi uses all of the jargon we have become accustomed to (browser, double-click, URL) to the computer-ignorant Mima and it recalls to me how weird it was to be late getting onto the information superhighway. It also makes the movie seem a little dated because now when we watch it, our question has to be, "What kind of person doesn't know about the internet?"

The story, though, is one that works well on a surface level (i.e. as a psychological thriller) and as an allegorical tale. One way to watch Perfect Blue is as a symbol of the awkward transition between childhood (pop princess) and adult (actress) and all of the fears and ways it attempts to change us. The nice thing is that there is enough on screen to make either viewing interpretation both plausible and enjoyable.

What makes the movie so enjoyable to watch is Mima. Her quest to find the elements that have been torturing her and discover what reality is is a compelling one. Moreover, she is written as both a strong (takes an acting job that requires her to do a rape scene) young woman and a spoiled, dependent princess. More than simply being the tart or pushover the public image of pop princess has made her, Mima is infused with a great deal of inner strength and that level of resiliency seems very realistic to me.

The only real fault upon rewatching Perfect Blue, which was gripping and surprising the first time around, was how obvious it seems the second time around. Like a lot of movies with a mysterious plot, often it does not hold up so well when you know what it is you are supposed to be looking for. Upon seeing it again, I caught so many more clues given as to who the alternate was, down to how that person's name is a clue. However, like The Usual Suspects, there was some fun in going through and catching all sorts of details I did not the first time.

Finally, one of the things that I enjoyed most about Perfect Blue was that it did not follow the typical European "red herring" trick. In a psychological thriller like this one where one is searching the identity of the force of evil, usually there is an obvious choice that turns out to either be not involved at all or actually trying to help the protagonist. In Perfect Blue, they shed that conceit and the result is more surprising and enjoyable than the other way.

Perfect Blue is wonderful for anyone who likes a good psychological drama and can get beyond the visuals of anime to appreciate a quality one. Worth your time and money.

For other animated films, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Princess Mononoke
Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Index Page!

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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