Perfect Blue: Life is Anything But Glamorous || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 80-minute 1997 anime film “Perfect Blue,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Satoshi Kon, script by Sadayuki Murai, and loosely based on the novel “Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis” by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. 

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Fantasy & Reality

Rising star Mima Kirigoe has just announced her retirement from her Japanese idol group to pursue an acting career. While she tries to convince herself that this is what she wants to be doing with her life, others couldn’t be in greater opposition. Namely, her fans, and one deranged creep in particular who begins to stalking her. As the people responsible for her career change are gruesomely murdered one by one, Mima herself starts to teeter on the edge of sanity.

From the genius mind of Satoshi Kon comes the bizarre story of a singer-turned-actor desperately trying to escape from the delusional head space that is causing the lines between fantasy and reality to blur. The film is swamped in Kon’s signature quick-cut directing style, with creative transitions, wacky visual perspectives, and bright colors guiding the eye through this terrifying narrative.

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Kon’s attentiveness to defining the boundaries of fantasy and reality is exemplified in Perfect Blue. Sometimes we are shown Mima acting in a scene, while other times the stage is very much mirroring reality. Figures from Mima’s imagination haunt both her visions of reality and the viewer’s perception of it. You often find yourself asking, is this a dream? Or, perhaps, the nightmare that Mima’s reality has become?

Set at the dawn of the Internet Age, this psychedelic trip puts the viewer on a wild roller-coaster ride through the darker tunnels of human emotion. Paranoia, loneliness, and fear are thoroughly explored in this masterful film that demonstrates what the psychological thriller genre of entertainment can do when a gripping story is met with heart-pumping suspense and a clever directing style that shows you exactly what it wants, when it wants.

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Living in Duality

Perfect Blue begins at the end. That is to say, the end of Mima’s career as a pop idol, and the beginning of her acting career. Despite being a beloved icon on stage, her back stage life is actually a realistic mess. Her apartment is cluttered, and she’s so in-and-out all the time that the cheese she buys at the beginning of the film expires a few scenes later. Mima is, to be frank, just another teenage girl trying to make a living in modern day Japan.

As such, it’s no surprise that Mima’s idol career was suffocating her. Much like a high school memory, sure, she had fun. But maybe it’s time to move on now. She is characterized by a sense of modesty and passion for her work, although she’s perfectly fine with moving on to a new phase of her life. That is, until the industry starts to exploit her talents.

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Without going into spoilers, I merely can offer this small sentiment: We really don’t have any idea of how the industry works, unless we are actively a part of it. In the world of money and fame, it’s not about you want to do, but rather about what other people want you to do. Sure, a girl can give her verbal consent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she would be comfortable with being used for someone else’s gain. As an actor, you serve the director, and sometimes that can conflict with your own moral values as a person.

As the story goes along, Mima becomes a victim of forced maturation. This includes being thrust into horrific rape scene that, despite knowing it is fake, scars her poor young mind. She is also met with increased anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even a separation of self by means of superstition. This delusional mindset causes negative thoughts to rise, as in so long as someone is Mima, who really cares if Mima is Mima. How the mind repairs itself and subconsciously shields you for self-protection is absolutely incredible, and that underlying theme is what ties every red thread in Perfect Blue together in one complex, disorienting knot.

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Sensation, Perception, & Direction

Madhouse boosts Perfect Blue‘s production value with an unbelievable amount sensory detail work that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Flashing stage lights, rattling AC units, the motor noises of a 90s desktop computer, the gentle hum of a fish tank—it’s almost sensation in excess, which is just what this film needs. Transporting us to modern day Japan, the attention to detail enhances the setting, and makes the story feel all the more real.

Another gift of watching this film is getting to understand the iconography that makes it so famous beyond being just a really good movie. The bath scene where Mima curls up and screams, bubbles rising from the air of her trapped emotions is particularly beautiful. Seeing Mima hold a knife in midair against a flashing digital backdrop of own image embodies the epitome of suspense. And although creepy in context when paired with the scary music, the scene where Mima chases her dancing, skipping pop idol self through a hospital building conjures up true feelings of horror and hysteria.

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Speaking of music, Masahiro Ikumi’s music score for the film adds an eeriness that today’s horror anime just can’t compete with. When we’re not jamming out to light idol music from the 90’s (or listening to it in the elevator . . .), pounding sound board effects, uneasy remixing, and metallic screeching accompany a wailing chorus of uncanny cries. It sounds unpleasant, and it is. But, without Ikumi’s OST, I doubt Mima’s experiences would’ve felt as intense and life-threatening as they were.

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It’s A Maddening, Cruel World

Perfect Blue takes an introspective look at how fantasy can shape reality, and vice versa. In subtle ways, it asks the question that, as creators of some kind of content, what do we owe our consumers? Are we ever miscommunicating with our readers and viewers, and how would we know? Also, if our successes define us to some extend, how long will they cast shadows into our future?

The world is cruel, scary, and unfair. If it can take something from you, it will. And it won’t give anything back. But Perfect Blue also tells us that if any of these thoughts we are having bother us, then it’s all reality because these thoughts still shape how we feel in real life. Even the most seemingly sane people in our lives . . . We have no idea what they may be going through. Life is a performance, a stage, and if we don’t tell people about what’s going on, they might not ever know. 

In that way, Mima’s story is one about winning yourself back. What does it take to feel confident in my words and thoughts, and how can I get to that place—that’s what I got from Perfect Blue.

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A harrowing journey through a young woman’s psyche as she tries to escape from the fever dream that her reality is becoming, Perfect Blue effectively uses deception in anime to play with his viewer’s mind. The perception of reality cannot be trusted, especially as the psychodrama heightens towards the climax. But WOW is it a compelling mystery. You actively want Mima to figure out what’s wrong with her life—you want her to solve the case. And with a sucker punch ending that’ll hit ya right in gut, the whole experience comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Believe it or not, for a story that began with existential worry and cleverly crafted chaos, the ending of Perfect Blue provides an outlook that favors hope, confidence, and independence. And seeing the light of those perfect blue skies completes this wild yet captivating journey through the complexities of the human psyche.

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The truth is that today more than ever, I wanted to have a good time with you. — Mima Kirigoe


Afterword

While I would recommend this film to every fan of anime out there, it IS full of gratuitous sex and violence. So, if either of those are triggering to you, definitely steer clear for a bit. More than just thrilling, suspenseful, and entertaining, Perfect Blue ponders so many ideas, from how the internet will forever change privacy, to the savagery in the entertainment world. A compelling mystery by master storyteller Kon himself, “Cafe Mocha” certified Perfect Blue can truly make you feel genuinely scared for your life (especially if you watch this at midnight by yourself like I did, eep).

I’d love to hear what you think of this classic film down in the comments! Special thanks go to GKIDS for rescuing this long out-of-print title and giving it a lovely Blu-ray remaster—they really are the best! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go binge Love Live! . . . you know, to maintain my own sanity. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host

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Finding a Place to Belong: Tokyo Godfathers & the Gift of Kindness | OWLS “Miracles”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s twelfth monthly topic for 2018, “Miracles,” I wanted to feature the epitome of anime Christmas films, the one and only KING of uplifting vibes and positivity, Tokyo Godfathers!

‘Tis the season where miracles happen. For December’s theme, we will be exploring faith in anime and pop culture. We will discuss some of the miracles that enter a character’s life during their darkest moments. Some of the questions we will explore: How does a “miracle” change a person’s life? How do we define miracles? Can miracles only happen due to a legend or a mystical being? Or do miracles happen every day, but we just don’t see them? We hope that you enjoy this holiday season!

– the OWLS Team

We’re down to the end here, my friends! One last OWLS post for 2018, and I’m thrilled to finish on a film so full of heart that there truly isn’t a Christmas experience like it. Thanks again Lyn for the prompt—enjoy!~

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 2003 film “Tokyo Godfathers,” animated by Madhouse, and both directed by and based on the original story by the late Satoshi Kon.

A Babe in a Manger

Christmas Eve. A glistening white snow has fallen upon Tokyo, and as three homeless friends are rummaging in a dump for a Christmas present, they discover a newborn baby. Despite having nothing to their name, the three take in this pure little girl which they name “Kiyoko.” Knowing they can’t support the child on their own for long, however, they take to the streets in search of Kiyoko’s mother, based on the small amount of info they gathered from her meager belongings.

But just as how the night before Christmas is the longest for any young child, these three poor vagabonds become entangled in a wild series of events involving a kidnapping, crime, death, a fight between rival gangs, and a crazy chase throughout the vast city.

A transvestite, an alcoholic, and a runaway teenager may make for an unlikely team, but what binds them together in their search for where this baby belongs is their inherent goodwill and incredible heart. By finally raising their heads toward the future, they are also able to confront their pasts, coming just a little bit closer to finding their own place in this wild world—a Christmas miracle in itself.

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I love Satoshi Kon works, but in some ways I also hate them. His vivid artistry, unique directing style, and powerful storytelling are masterful (and totally iconic). But while he knows how to blow my mind and make me see the world in a whole new way, he also knows exactly how to make me feel weak, shameful, and powerless as a human being.

Tokyo Godfathers is very much a human story. It features three troubled individuals living in an unequal, unfinished world, and although they finally address the error of their ways, their individual revelations occur only after being ridiculed, accused, and exposed for the true sins of their past. (Also, they get physically and emotionally beat up throughout the film’s entirety, which is met with frequent crying and wailing in the Tokyo slums.)

Just as how the film is praised for its soulful story, inventive directing, lively character animation, and holiday cheer, it also, fittingly for Kon, makes the viewer feel pity for the cast and anger towards the socioeconomic imbalance in the world, yet helpless to do anything about it! But maybe there is something we can do—after all, this wouldn’t be a post about the joy of miracles if it ended in in heartache and tragedy.

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Coincidence, Miracles, & Faith

Equally touching as it is prophetic, there are a stunning number of what can only be called “coincidences” that stack up in Tokyo Godfathers. I mean, I can understand running into “the one” person you need to see in the sprawling Tokyo cityscape as a means of plot convenience, but man, talk about being in the right place at the right time!

Over the course of the film, our three homeless friends stumble into ordeal after ordeal, yet persist out of the goodness in their hearts—and fate, or more appropriately here, God, assists in their noble endeavor. How does Hana always know the right path to take? How does Miyuki seem to constantly entangle herself in trouble, yet flee at just the right time? And how does Gin manage to stay alive? Simply, it is God who is watching over our homeless friends, and his subtle roles and appearances can be found in the backgrounds. Perhaps he could be keeping tabs on them from on high through a billboard depicting a crying woman; other times, God manifests in more illusionist ways: walls and windows that create faces, figurines with pulsating stares, and angel statues representing guidance.

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In these mystical, foreshadowing ways that Satoshi Kon has mastered through cinematography, Kon transforms one of the film’s biggest critiques—its over-dependence on an unnaturally high number of plot conveniences—into a powerful, compelling theme: faith and goodwill towards others are rewarded with protection against the unknown.

Faith plays a strong role in Tokyo Godfathers. Whether in the opening Christmas Eve church sermon or the biblical motifs scattered throughout the film, Kon makes it clear that those who believe in the good in others are granted love and respect in turn—which is interesting given that Satoshi Kon supposedly wasn’t a religious man. More importantly, kindness isn’t a virtue limited to religion. Kon teaches us that anyone can be kind, and that empathy and altruism can be found in the rarest of places . . .

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Three Wise *Homeless* Men

Ok, so they’re technically not all “men,” seeing as how Hana identifies as a transwoman, but the motif still holds. As the holy scriptures dictate, Gin, Hana, and Miyuki stumble upon a babe in a dumpster, but instead of bringing Kiyoko gifts, our three wise men find her a home. What we eventually find out, however, is that the baby isn’t the only one suffering from displacement. Each in their own way, Gin, Hana, and Miyuki can’t go back to their previous way of life, and that dissolution has led them to be homeless both in the physical and mental sense.

But life has a funny way of dealing with such situations. In a tale that is equal parts dramatic as it is comedic, our homeless trio is predestined to find a sense of belonging so long as they confront the shadows of their past and persist through the present, to which they certainly do. As a new fan of the film, I just love these three silly goons!! Miyuki’s rebellious teenage side shines in her fiery dialogues with Gin. And as if they needed more reason for conflict, Gin and Hana never cease bickering with one another, much like a married old couple. A drunk, a homo, and a teen girl—who would’ve thought such a cast could be so enjoyable to watch!

In all seriousness, I especially adored Hana’s kind, motherly nature. Hana is also highly intuitive, as she’s always able to pick the right direction to take, as well as describe exactly what Kiyoko’s mother would be doing upon finding her. As the situation calls for her to sacrifice more and more, we see how willing, courageous, and caring she truly is despite suffering from (and hiding) her own personal sickness. She draws a tragic relation to the story about the Blue Demon, and knowing full-well that she, too, must eventually go away, Hana’s challenge to care for the baby she’s always wanted likely is her final test to determine her fate in the afterlife. And given that final leap of faith at the end where she literally jumps off a building to save the child—an event which can only be called miraculous—it becomes clear that she definitely passed the test. Bold and brazen, loud and proud, funny as heck and never afraid to stick out her neck for the ones she loves most, Hana is a gift to us all.

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A Christmas Miracle

As the old aphorism goes, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take,” and if there’s anything to be learned from Tokyo Godfathers, it’s that the good and bad in life comes and goes, but we always have the opportunity to be kind to others.

As Gin comes to terms with his gambling and alcohol addictions, he takes ownership of the actions in his life and becomes determined to not mess up the second chance he’s been given with his daughter.

For Miyuki, she accepts the terrible things she did to her father tries to seek him out to apologize and mend their bond.

Hana is finally granted the opportunity to be a mother—to care for a child, to love it, and to provide warmth for it in the harsh winter cold.

And lastly, a mother learns what it’s like to lose her child—to lose everything that mattered to her—as well as what it feels like to miraculously get it back.

With justice and dignity intertwined with love and hope on this eventful Christmas Eve, Satoshi Kon performs Christmas miracles and delivers a story to stand the test of time—an invaluable lesson on what it truly means to be human in this wild, wild world.

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“Being able to speak freely is the lifeblood of love.” — Hana


Afterword

To be honest with you all, I’d never actually watched Tokyo Godfathers until just the other day. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been wanting to watch it for a long time now, but if it weren’t for this post, I likely wouldn’t have seen it as early as I did—and I’m sure glad I spent that cold wintry day on my bed eating a bowl of hot soup and watching such a heartwarming movie. Guys, Tokyo Godfathers is fantastic, a “Caffe Mocha” classic for sure and the perfect family friendly anime film if you’re willing to share the holy word. This isn’t an overly complex film by any means—it’s about simple emotions, a simple act of kindness, and how even the smallest of efforts can snowball and impact the lives of others.

Spend this holiday season with someone you love. Do something nice for someone else, even if you get something out of it, too. I encourage you all to dig deep within yourself—as this film has done for me—and go out there and make a difference in someone else’s life. As I always like to forward on, we only get one of these things, one life, so be sure to take all the chances you can get. And be kind to others—a simple conviction to kindness will surround you with good company and food aplenty, that I can assure you!

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This concludes my December 19th entry in the OWLS “Miracles” blog tour. Dale (That Baka Blog) went right before me and wrote a heartfelt post on one of, if not, my favorite anime film: Kiki’s Delivery Service!  Now, look out for Jack (The Aniwriter) this upcoming Friday, December 21st! Thank you so much for following my OWLS journey this year—I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing for every single month, and I’m looking forward to all the incredible topics to be written for in 2019! ‘Till next time, Happy Holidays!~

– Takuto, your host

Expanding My Anime Film Collection in 2017! | Blogmas 2017 Day 11

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 11 of Blogmas (whoops)!

We’re nearing the final days, but there are still a couple of BIG things that made my 2017 a landmark year for exploration; one is on the anime side, the other on the blogging side. Today, we’ll briefly talk about anime movies, and how I went from disliking their short length and randomness to simply being enamored by their ability to tell a “complete,” charming story full of virtues. And yes, my film collection did exponentially EXPLODE this year as a result!

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Expanding My Anime Film Collection

(This is in regards to films that don’t belong to existing franchises. Ex. No titles labeled “The Movie”)

Like I was saying, I used to not be big on anime movies. Sure, there’s those fave Studio Ghibli films that everyone grows up with (special shoutout to Kiki and Laputa), but otherwise, you wouldn’t find me browsing for some little indie film or original short. Looking back on 2017 now, I think it was the tail end of 2016 where I caught the film fever.

I took a painting class during my last semester in high school. With little imagination (or teaching for that matter) to go off of, I turned to anime as inspiration, like we all do. I had seen Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words sometime in 2016, and I was simply blown away with what I call the “Shinkai Aesthetic.” It’s clean, chic, picturesque, semi-realistic, and most of all, has wicked good lighting. I could go on, but there’ll be a HUGE post about this guy’s art coming soon! Many of my paintings were inspired by Shinkai’s style as a result (well, that and Studio Khara’s Eva Rebuild Series). Specifically speaking, Shinkai’s iconic skies. I’ll share some of them with you guys later if you’re interested!

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Anyway, I started to grow as an artist after creating these paintings, noticing the subtle (or drastic) differences in other anime directors’ styles: Hayao Miyazaki (and Studio Ghibli), Mamoru Hosoda, Satoshi Kon, the Project Itoh films, Mamoru Oshii, Yasuhiro Yoshiyura, and of course, Makoto Shinkai. Thematically, they all tackle different issues in different ways, and learning about not just how but why a director wants to send out a certain message through a particular scene became something that I could apply to my own writing, namely, my OWLS posts. As cheesy as they previously seemed, I learned to love life lessons and the things we can learn from entertainment.

During my Shinkai painting phase, I was also watching Ghost in the Shell for the first time, exploring the ENTIRE franchise from its first 1995 film to the Arise series and even Paramount’s 2017 live action. My mind kept expanding with every episode, every iconic shot, and the urge to recreate them in my drawing class just couldn’t be ignored. I was absolutely OBSESSED with cyberpunk by this point, and I thank all the directors and their unique styles for inspiring me so much!

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This brings us to my collection, and my [terrible] need to buy everything that I watch. Thanks to Amazon Prime’s wicked ability, which allows me to buy a single item WITHOUT reaching a certain paywall for free shipping (cause I ain’t ever gonna pay for that, mhmm), I would literally buy every single anime film that fell below $15-ish. One. At. A. Time. Spoiler alert: that’s a lot of them. Here was my anime film collection in 2016:

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Pretty basic, got classics like Paprika and Ghost in the Shell, and cool lesser-known titles like Time of EVE and The Empire of Corpses. Neat.

Here’s my collection now, at the end of 2017:

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Oh dear god.

I went out and bought every Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray that I could (excluding Stand Alone Complex, as the reviews for the Blu-rays were horrendous). I loaded up on Shinkai, I snagged some Hosoda (well, received them as gifts, rather), I picked up modern classics like In This Corner of the World and classic-classics like Akira that arguably shaped anime as we know it! Honestly, I’m not sure why it took this long for me to get around to Akira. As for that whole gorgeous-looking set of black on the far left . . .

Thanks to GKIDS and their re-licensing and re-releasing of ALL the Studio Ghibli films, I bought all the ones that were on “sale,” and you can already bet that I’m going back for more as soon as the others lower in price. These are some high-ass quality releases, definitely much better than Disney’s [ugly] shiny gold releases. Then again, ANYTHING is better than the oooold DVDs that were first released, so I bought all the new Blu-rays to replace the ancient DVD copies we’ve had (which were re-gifted as priceless memories to my siblings for their own collections, haha)!

But yeah, there it is, the physical representation of my growing appreciation for the art of film, all in the beloved media that inspires me to create and explore—anime. Throughout the years, I’ve neglected so many astounding masterpieces and modern classics, and all because I wouldn’t have wanted their short stories to end. What can you get out of a measly 2 hours, anyway? However, through some incredible directors and artists in the anime industry, I’ve learned that the journey can still be magnificent and awe-inspiring, regardless of how long or short the story is. Now I can’t wait to see which films I watch next, and the adventures that they take me on!

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How big is your personal anime film collection? Did you see any title up there that is a personal favorite of yours? What other anime movies should be in my collection? Let me know so I can go and buy it after writing this! This post will ALSO be logged as a “Cafe Talk,” so share your thoughts to your heart’s content!

I’m on a bit of an odd schedule now thanks to the holidays, but this concludes Blogmas Day Eleven of the 12 Days of Anime. Only one left! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with the last post!

– Takuto, your host