Perfect Blue: Finding Identity 25 Years Later

Few anime directors have left as indelible a mark as Satoshi Kon. His debut directorial work, “Perfect Blue,” continues to captivate audiences over two decades after its release. As we commemorate just over 25 years of this psychological thriller, we explore its enduring significance and its influence on the anime industry and viewers’ minds.

Who Are You, Perfect Blue?

The haunting phrase “Anata wa dare?” (“Who are you?”) permeates Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece, “Perfect Blue.” Its significance extends beyond its role in the film, delving into the questions we all have about our own identity in modern culture. As we examine “Perfect Blue” a quarter-century later, we are compelled to ask of the film, “Who are you?” In other words, what made this movie so influential? How has this cinematic gem held up over time? And lastly, what enduring impact has it left on subsequent works?

Rediscovering Satoshi Kon’s Classic

Originally released in Japanese theaters in 1997, “Perfect Blue” didn’t reach most US audiences until its 2000 DVD release. For many, this celebrated film remained confined to small screens, leaving the desire to experience it on the big screen unfulfilled until a limited theatrical re-release in 2018 by GKIDS. Thanks to Anime Expo’s Cinema Nights and their celebration of Satoshi Kon’s works, fans again now have the opportunity to indulge in this masterpiece in a proper cinematic setting. This event is bringing Kon’s movies (among other anime titles) to theaters throughout the year-end and the beginning of the next.

A Glimpse into a Bygone Era

After more than twenty-five years, revisiting ‘Perfect Blue,’ it was impossible not to notice the nostalgic references scattered throughout the film. The story is set in a time when concepts like browsing the web or the very purpose of a webpage itself were mysteries to some. In today’s digital age, it may seem ludicrous that a twenty-something wouldn’t grasp these basic internet concepts, but in 1997, such knowledge gaps were not uncommon among non-tech-savvy individuals.

Perfect Blue’s Enduring Mood

The movie’s slow-burning tension, some details forgotten but key scenes remembered, effectively transports us to the late ’90s J-Pop scene. The stalker fan’s eerie fixation during Mima’s performance and the infectious J-Pop soundtrack create unsettling tension.

The DNA of the Movie

Music as a Narrative Tool in Perfect Blue

The song “Ai no Tenshi,” featured in the film, plays a pivotal role in driving the story, especially when used during darker moments. It acts as a sonic backdrop to Mima’s descent into madness, murder, and mayhem, all of which threaten her fragile grip on reality. While “Perfect Blue” may not represent Satoshi Kon’s pinnacle of technical achievement, it possesses a raw charm typically associated with a creator’s first work. The central theme of “losing reality” through the interplay of “real life and virtual images” is effectively conveyed, as Kon himself noted in interviews.

Powerful and Impactful Scenes

“Perfect Blue” remains impactful, particularly in its more shocking and emotionally charged sequences. The audible gasp from my Japanese co-viewer (who had never seen the film before) during one of these scenes was a testament to its enduring ability to elicit strong reactions. While some might see some of these scenes as gratuitous, they are undeniably effective in establishing the idea of trauma, not only for the main character but also for those who are witnessing certain events take place.

Mind-Bending Transitions

One of the film’s strengths lies in its rapid, jarring transitions between scenes, which continue to challenge the audience’s perception of reality. However, “Perfect Blue” does reveal some limitations that were likely due to time and budget constraints, particularly when compared to Kon’s later works. This is evident in the somewhat poorly animated background characters and minor coloring issues. Nevertheless, such imperfections were not uncommon during this era in the anime industry.

The Timeless Story that is Perfect Blue

Despite any imperfections, “Perfect Blue” proves that its story has withstood the test of time. As the credits roll and the theater lights come up, the narrative’s enduring power remains palpable. One can’t help but wonder how this film might have evolved had it been made later in Kon’s career, with the benefit of a larger budget and more experience.

What Comes Now?

Perfect Blue’s Influence on Cinema

One of the most remarkable aspects of “Perfect Blue” is its influence on Western media, particularly in the works of director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky’s affinity for “Perfect Blue” extended beyond use of a strikingly similar bathtub scene in “Requiem for a Dream.” In 2010, he directed “Black Swan,” a film that closely mirrors Kon’s work in terms of themes and narrative elements. In addition, during her 2001 Drowned World Tour, Madonna included clips from “Perfect Blue” in a remix of her song “What It Feels Like for a Girl” as a video interlude. The influence of “Perfect Blue” on Aronofsky’s creative vision underscores the lasting impact of Kon’s masterpiece on Western media.

A Celebration of Satoshi Kon’s Legacy

Since his passing in 2010, Satoshi Kon’s profound impact on the world of anime and cinema has continued to resonate, further endearing his works to fans and scholars alike. As we delve into “Perfect Blue” 25+ years later, plans are already underway to savor Satoshi Kon’s other cinematic creations in theaters.

Given the unique opportunity to experience these films on the silver screen, it’s an event that no fan of Kon’s distinctive vision should miss. As you exit the theater, wiping off your greasy, popcorn-butter-covered hands, the enduring significance of these stories undoubtedly remains with you, serving as a testament to Satoshi Kon’s enduring legacy.

Author: Jeremy

Jeremy was first introduced to anime with heavily edited versions of Mazinger Z (aka Tranzor Z in the US), GoLion (aka Voltron) and Macross (aka Robotech) while growing up in the 1980's. Since then his tastes have evolved into a fairly eclectic mix of anime with a soft-spot for underdog shonen stories, psychological/cyber-punk stories and select love comedies. Jeremy was also the head organizer of Anime Souffle anime club in Los Angeles. It was at an Anime Souffle meeting where he met Michael Huang and eventually was invited to join as a guest co-host for Scattered Cells Podcast episode #6 in February of 2007. Afterwards he became an official part of the Anime Diet crew.

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