For her second film, Brittany went for murder again, but this time it was quite a bit darker. The film she selected was the 1997 anime film known as Pafekuto Buru (“Perfect Blue“), a title whose significance is basically completely obscure, at least in the english-subtitled version. The film was directed by Satoshi Kon, his first feature. Interestingly enough, we have the 1995 Kobe earthquake to thank for this film – the novel adaptation was originally intended to be a live-action film, until earthquake damage to the production studio resulted in the budget being cut down to the level of an anime feature. A live-action version of the novel was released five years later, but while the original has become a cult favorite, the live-action version was largely panned.
The film follows the story of Mima, a Japanese girl-pop singer who in a familiar tale decides that she wants to leave the band and pursue a career as a serious actress. She announces her decision out of the blue at a concert, and it’s relatively poorly received.
One person who vehemently disagrees with Mima’s decision is one of her managers, Rumi, who believes that not only was Mima made to be a pop star, but also that her new career will ruin her image. In a move that in hindsight is obvious foreshadowing, Rumi correctly interprets the creepy comments in one of Mima’s final fan letters (“I love looking in on Mima’s room every day” or some such) as referring not to literal stalking, but to an internet website dedicated to Mima. The scenes of Rumi explaining the internet to Mima, hooking up a Macintosh Performa (a 1.2 gig hard drive and 16 megs of RAM!), and teaching her to use Netscape Navigator were laughably dated, but they did help Mima to discover that there was in fact a website known as “Mima’s Room” which featured a diarist (man, there weren’t no “blogs” back then) purporting to be Mima and relating impossibly-accurate details of Mima’s day to day life.
So it turns out that Mima really does have a stalker. One obvious candidate is a vacant-eyed creeper named Me-Mania with worse-than-British teeth who seems to keep showing up everywhere Mima goes. He was at her final show, he’s hiding in the shadows at her first acting jobs, you get the picture. And while the Mima’s Room diarist continually writes about Mima’s supposed regret in leaving her pop band, the real Mima’s career is moving forward. Her character on a TV drama begins to get a much meatier role – including a simulated rape scene that somewhat bothers Mima but traumatizes Rumi – and she appears nude in a magazine.
At this point, the stalking seems to pick up pretty significantly. One of the first pieces of evidence that the stalker has the upper hand is when Mima returns home one day to find that all of her fish have been killed. Of course, this is also the point when the film takes a Lynchian turn for the worse. The fish magically return to life shortly after this, and this marks the beginning of a very long stretch of film with an entirely unreliable narrator.
Mima is being haunted by a phantasmal version of her pop-star self, one that appears in mirrors instead of her own reflection, or that floats out of the window and traipses along the streetlights as it taunts her for her decision to leave the band for an acting career that is turning out to be “the pits”. Haunting Mima begins to talk about taking over and becoming the “real” Mima.
And worst of all, many of the people associated with the fall of Mima’s image (the screenwriter who crafted the rape scene, the photographer who took the nude shots) end up being brutally murdered. Finally, it is revealed that Mima herself has committed the murders. Of course, with Mima jumping in and out of reality (she just woke up! no, she’s acting! no, her character is a real person and is inventing the actress to shield herself! no, she just woke up!) nothing can quite be trusted.
The film comes to a climax with Mima being attacked by Me-Mania, who attempts to rape her in a reconstruction of the scene she acted (and ends up getting killed) and Mima being chased by PhantasmaMima, who morphs back and forth between being pop-star Mima and (dun-dun-dunnnnn!) her now-deranged manager Rumi. In a final confrontation RumiMima, who was threatening to kill ApparentlyRealMima, is gravely injured to end the main arc of the story. We finally get a quick coda featuring Rumi in an asylum and mega-actress Mima giving her credit for making her the actress she is today. The End.
Perfect Blue is a cool movie, really. It’s pretty edgy (perhaps even too edgy) in its graphic sex, nudity, and violence, but it’s really stylish. It’s a movie that’s just a joy to watch. Unfortunately, it’s not such a great movie to put any thought into. I call myself back to über-confusing Cinema 1544 film Primer. Primer makes nearly no sense, at least from a holistic point of view, while you’re watching it. You need a detailed diagram just to understand what the heck happened. But all the while that you’re watching the film, you know, you just know in the depths of your knowledge, that if you could integrate it all it would all make sense. It’s not haphazard, nothing that happens didn’t really happen, it’s just a question of puzzling it out.
Perfect Blue can’t be puzzled out. There’s no “Aha! I get it!” moment in the film, because unfortunately there’s nothing to get. The entire second half of the film is so unreliable as to leave you with no way to say what is a real event, what is imaginary, what is some sort of blend, or even whose point of view any particular scene is supposedly coming from. Are we seeing delusions that are Mima’s, or are they Rumi’s? Why does RumiMima float? And appear in mirrors? Did anybody actually die? Most films that decide to go unreliable narrator have the courtesy to at least wrap it up at the end in such a way that you can construct a meaningful interpretation of the unreliability by the end of the film. Cinema 1544 feature Black Swan (to which Perfect Blue is often compared for several obvious reasons) does a very good job of this, allowing all of the unreliability in the story to be explained by Portman’s delusions. Perfect Blue (not even with the coda) is unable to do this, and with the continual re-writing of facts and jumping from place to place in time and space it renders the second half of the film completely unintelligible. There’s no point to even thinking about it, because there’s no answer. David Lynch’s Inland Empire has people wearing huge rabbit heads. Perfect Blue has a second half. And it’s too bad, because the first half of the movie is really good.