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Succeeds all the way at being horribly scary, in a very good way.
Perfect Blue is a storming success in every department. As a movie in itself, it's a brilliant piece of work, packed with style and -very- powerful scares. We follow teen pop idol Mima, who tries to make the switch from singing to TV acting. Everything seems normal enough at first, with just the somewhat funky directing hinting at things to come. But it wouldn't be a thriller if good ol' normality didn't come crashing to pieces to make way for some terrifying madness and violence. Things start to go pear-shaped when the studio staff working around Mima are threatened, and later horribly killed, apparently by an obsessed Mima-fan who doesn't like the new direction her career is taking. And as if that wasn't bad enough, Mima herself is starting to go bonkers with all the pressure. She begins to have visions of a disturbing alter ego, more or less her "old self" from her singing days. And this "other" Mima doesn't want to play second fiddle to the new acting image Mima has taken on; she claims to be the real one, with the flesh-and-blood Mima being the fake. Mima's delirium grows gradually more entangled, until she sinks into a mental state where it's impossible for her, and for the audience to tell what is, and what is not really happening. And there are still those murders going on...
Granted, the "movie within a movie" gimmick has been done before so often that it doesn't even strike me anymore as original. Reality-twisting is also something I've seen before. All the same, Perfect Blue managed to impress me enormously, and scare my socks off like no other film. There's something about not knowing for sure (as a viewer) what is and isn't for real that always keeps one intrigued. Particularly during the more violent moments (and the film does get seriously nasty), one is constantly praying that it's -not- for real. "Go on, snap out of it, Mima. This is too scary to be real, you're just having another vision...right? Right?" The leitmotiv of a second self also intrigues me, and I found it delightful trying to pick out which Mima was really the "real" one. Just how strong is "false" Mima's presence in reality? Is she a complete phantom of the imagination, or does she have a litteral, physical presence of some kind? And most of all; out of these two versions of herself, which one does Mima really want to be? If you can't tell for sure what does and doesn't really happen, you also might not take everything the characters declare for granted. The ending does provide a somewhat logical explanation that ties up all of the insanity again, but that doesn't mean the fun of figuring this out for yourself is completely spoiled; you can very well not take the ending entirely for granted either (while it makes sense, there are some bits about the explanation it provides that don't completely gel with me). Lots of re-watchings and picking apart of hints is in store for me there. Love it when that happens ^^.
A few tiny niggles; the animation quality in the first half of the film is not quite breathtaking, and seemed decidedly below-par for movie quality animation. Luckily, it picks up later on, becoming pleasingly smooth. And by the time you reach the terror of the later part of the film, you're already too frightened to really be picky about animation quality. Some of the violent and/or explicit scenes are very nasty indeed (ewww, straight people, sick man), but they serve the purpose of enhancing the fright factor very well, rather than just being needless grotesqueries to please the gore-junkies in the style of that hideous Akira. The film is a complete success as a frightening, surreal and involving thriller (though I do still like Jinn-Roh much better).
But another reason to rejoice is that Perfect Blue is a step in the right direction for the general public's image of what anime really is. Sure, the enlightened few among us for whom Evangelion is standard fare, and who can give detailed insights into the latest CLAMP titles already know that anime is not "a genre". It's a medium in itself, and the Japanese animation market can, and does treat every imaginable genre and subject, often with skill that leaves feeble Hollywoodian efforts miles behind itself (in the case of Perfect Blue, it speaks volumes that a celluloid character such as Mima manages to become more lifelike and sympathetic than any sillicone tarts Hollywood chucks around the screen). It's hardly uncommon to see a genre such as a psychological stalker-thriller treated in animation to the Japanese. Heck, they've done every other imaginable thing under the sun in animation, and a damn good job they do at it as well. It's just a shame that hardly any of the really good stuff ever makes it over to the West, thus creating a distorted image for casual western viewers. We do seem to have made some progress from the Akira Aftertaste years, where anime was generally put on the same line as sex and violence and very little else (side-step; how come nobody ever raises a finger when live Yank actors engage in orgies of the most brutal porn and bloodshed in just about every Hollywood flick ever made, but the whole world screams bloody murder when an anime character so much as takes his socks off? Live Yanks can get away with everything?). Now it's "anime is just pink-haired fairies in giant explosive turbo robots". They're getting just a tiny bit warmer, but maybe Perfect Blue will get the message across to a few others that anime embraces a diversity that ranges from Sailor Moon to Wings of Honneamise (and I'm just globally sketching here), with a reasonably large number of people getting to actually see this. A quite decent English dub that doesn't hamper the film too much is also a plus, though a dub will of course never equal the original. It might help to keep the above paragraph in mind for a Perfect Blue viewer not initiated to the big picture of anime. In any case, it's an impressive movie for anyone, worth seeing for being so unique, gripping and masterfully scary. I'll think twice before I look into a mirror for a long time to come after this...
A final note about the notorious comment that this could be a Disney-Hitchcock hybrid. Hitch perhaps, but comparing this kind of quality to Disney's paper-flat commercial slop is simply an insult to Perfect Blue.
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