Cult Cinema: Perfect Blue

Michelle and Andrew team up for an all encompassing review of Perfect Blue.

Perfect Blue is one of the most enthralling and underrated anime films of all time. For whatever reason, it has stayed under the radar of many film aficionados and maintained somewhat of a cult status. The late Satoshi Kon was not unknown in the western anime world, having directed critically acclaimed masterpieces such as Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika. He was known for his incredible editing techniques and atypical approach to storytelling. Perfect Blue was his directorial debut- although he had his hand in writing and doing designs for other anime series prior.

Whenever Perfect Blue gets mentioned, comparisons to David Lynch always crop up—it is a fair comparison but Satoshi Kon definitely has a style all of his own. The story concerns a young woman named Mima Kirigoe, who is a pop singer trying to break her way into the acting business. As Mima struggles to sustain her separate diametrically opposed identities: that of a squeaky clean pop idol and a sexy adult actress, she has an internal crisis of sorts. To compound things, she also seems to have attracted the attention of an unknown and dangerous stalker.

As Mima’s sanity begins to slide, the film starts to take a surreal tone and this is where Kon’s masterful editing comes into play. He has a way of manipulating time/place utilizing quick cuts and clever scene transitions to shape the perception of the viewer to his liking. Because he is not confined to standard camera positions (since it’s animated) it affords him a freedom not possible with live-action filming. The character designs are realistic and understated which makes the jaunts into magical realism that much more jarring and captivating. So, at times, this movie does show its “anime roots”, but not in the way most casual fans would expect. It is entirely possible to recommend Perfect Blue to someone who has never watched an anime in their life and for them to completely enjoy and respect it as a viable film and not just “kid’s stuff”.

There definitely are adult themes present throughout Perfect Blue; murder, nudity, exploitation, implied rape and blood are all shown. It transcends plain shock value because of the quality of the direction and the intelligence of the writing. Kon’s style parallels Hitchcock’s films, especially because of the complexity of the story and the way it’s visually presented to make the audience think or believe a certain way. The animation is top-notch as well and it’s provided by Madhouse studio, who are known for their outstanding work on numerous other anime feature films and television series. Masahiro Ikumi’s score is appropriately haunting and foreboding which adds greatly to the ambience in the film.

The influence of Perfect Blue on western cinema has been understated—it is said that director Darren Aronofsky bought the rights to the film so that he could use shots from it in his film Requiem for a Dream. His later film Black Swan also has some similarities, but he denies basing it off of Satoshi Kon’s previous work. The two directors have met each other, and both have stated that they enjoy one another’s work, so it may be just a case of mutual respect among professionals. At any rate, this is a film that should not be missed by anime and film lovers alike.

-Michelle Kisner

NOTE: The Blu-Ray reviewed here was released in the UK on November 27, 2013 and is Region B locked

The Video
Satoshi Kon’s 1997 anime classic gets a stellar visual transfer courtesy of Anime Ltd.  When compared to the long out-of-print non-anamorphic Anchor Bay disc, whose colors were washed out with far more print damage and aliasing inherent to non-anamorphic discs, it’s a major improvement.  While some shots reveal slight wobbling of the image (notably the first close-up of Mima’s stalker), it’s probably inherent to the source and not a fault of the disc mastering.  Colors are much richer with deeper, truer black levels than the overly boosted Anchor Bay disc.  Some shots are blurrier than others, but that too is likely intentional and not the result of poor mastering.  Scenes of Mima roaming around her apartment have never looked better, with deep reds that don’t bleed or shimmer.  Film grain is heavy but that’s again likely due to the source material itself, and overall the image looks filmic rather than like digital video.  Those who only know Perfect Blue by the Anchor Bay edition will be delighted with the new transfer, as if they’re viewing the film for the very first time.

The Audio
Now here is where the DVD/Blu-Ray authors went hog wild.  Mastered in DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound, Perfect Blue is a totally immersive sonic experience that will give your home theaters quite the workout.  Opening concert scenes and dialogue sound crystal clear with heavy bass and active rechanneling of the sound effects, and Masahiro Ikumi’s terrifying score has never sounded better with the eerie, disembodied voices howling from all directions.  When Mima is on the subway and her alter ego speaks to her through the window, the rear channels erupt with the sound of the bullet train roaring by.  Scenes of Mima being chased by her alter ego follow Mima’s perspective so we hear her pursuer running close behind her.  It’s a spectacular track which draws viewers deep into Mima’s psyche that makes our ears hers.  Simply put, those used to the 2.0 stereo surround track on the Anchor Bay DVD will be in for quite a shock when the razor sharp remastered audio hits their ears.

The Extras
With this DVD/Blu-Ray combo special edition, extras include several cast and crew interviews, an extended interview with the late director Satoshi Kon, three different Q&As detailing the making of the film, and a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the opening J-Pop song ‘Angel of Love’ along with an English-dubbed version of the song.  Along with trailers for Japan, the UK and US, the digipack package itself includes a series of postcards of images from the film, including the Japanese theatrical poster.   An image of Mima takes up both discs and one of them sports a topless Mima upon removal of the disc, keeping in theme with the film’s underlying sexual hysteria.  Overall it’s a snazzy package collectors will be excited to show off to their friends or simply display on their home video shrines. 


While most readers won’t be able to view this Blu-Ray edition without the aid of an import player, as the US have yet to release the film in high-definition, Perfect Blue is a great horror film to be sought out as soon as possible and one that will haunt you long after the credits have finished rolling.  While full of explicit sexuality, extreme violence and horrifying portrayals of psychosis, this is a flawless masterpiece which could not have been made half as effectively were it filmed in live action.  Much like Kon’s other surreal masterworks, the film is an uncompromising journey deep into the heart of darkness that will leave most viewers quivering with fear as we with share with Mima her travelogue to Hell and back.  Live action films rarely ever get this deeply, profoundly disturbing.

-Andrew Kotwicki