'Perfect Blue' (1997) is a Perfect Nightmare/Grade: A+
Few psychological thrillers have enveloped me quite as much as Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue (1997). The film is an absolute masterpiece, a richly drawn, eerie, confusing, but always engrossing experience that grabs hold of you in the first few minutes and refuses to let go. Like a really memorable dream- or nightmare, is more like it- you can't quite follow its logic, yet you can't help wanting to know what happened next.
The story, deceptively simple in its setup, follows renowned pop singer Mima (Junko Iwo), who decides to quit her music career to become an actor. As she leaves her troupe behind to pursue a role in a television soap opera, the choice is met with much venom from fans of her singing. This situation is only evermore complicated when a stalker begins to follow Mima everywhere, she has nagging visions of her former self, and she's forced to film some particularly harrowing scenes for the show.
If that sounds straightforward, don't worry, Satoshi Kon isn't content with holding your hand. As Mima's stalking and visions ramp up, and her conflicted feelings about her acting career do as well, the visuals and editing do a phenomenal job playing with your sense of reality. Sometimes a scene seems like it's really happening, but then we pull back to see it's TV footage being played back on a monitor. Then other times, like when the soap's producer is brutally murdered by the stalker, we half expect it to be fake, and nope. The film toys with your mental state like that beautifully all throughout.
The animation lends to that sensation as well. Mima's vivid expressions make it easy to read her emotions and thoughts as her life unravels, which keeps you firmly locked into her point of view. Kon and his artists also create a sharply-detailed environment with the city where Mima lives, which lures us in before the story takes a million odd turns. Plus, the stalker is always framed in just the right spot for each shot of him, maximizing his creep factor for both us and Mima. It doesn't hurt that he's written rather believably (I have no trouble imagining there's plenty of people like him in real life).
Make no mistake: this is no kids cartoon. Perfect Blue is uncompromisingly intense, at times rather graphically violent, and contains some scenes of nudity that make it strictly for adults. I can't say I enjoyed the experience. I can't say I hated it, either. I can definitely say I was uncontrollably sucked in through all of its eighty-two minutes. A Blu-Ray purchase and many revisits are certainly in order for the future.
You can rent or buy the film here: https://youtu.be/cvSC6C3GCL8