Satoshi Kon’s Memorable Anime Masterpiece
Acclaimed director Satoshi Kon’s debut film Perfect Blue was a revelation for Western audiences when it premiered in 1997. It almost immediately started earning acclaim outside of the small group of Westerners that normally followed anime. Always viewed in the West as a medium for children, the anime thriller from Japan explored the dark side of fame as a harrowing and twisted psychological thriller.
Perfect Blue remains an important landmark in anime and animation in general, proving the medium is capable and even well-suited for more mature fare. The decidedly adult themes seen in Perfect Blue were more appropriate for Hitchcock and Argento than anything previously seen in animation. It stands almost alone in pushing animation storytelling towards the complex dynamics of violent and disturbing thrillers. Crafted to perfection, the intense anime plays with the audience’s head before dropping a shocking final act.
Pop idol Mima is a beloved singer in CHAM!, a typical Japanese idol group followed by legions of fans. She’s the perfect image of sweet innocence. When Mima’s agents push her to move away from singing for a career as an actress, CHAM!’s fans are devastated and Mima herself is unsure of the move. She takes a small recurring role on a popular television drama. Little does Mima know that this career move has upset one of CHAM!’s biggest fans, an obsessed stalker that runs a small website devoted to the pop idol.
… recalling the most disturbed and effective giallo from Italy
… recalling the most disturbed and effective giallo from Italy
As Mima’s career as an actress takes off, people she’s working with begin to get gruesomely murdered. Knowing her presence may be causing the deaths, Mima’s guilt starts eating away at her. The pressure of fame and being a star begin to haunt her, seeing visions of herself from her more sanitized pop idol days. Fantasy and reality start blurring for the actress, as the thriller she’s filming starts dipping into darker and darker territory, including a brutal rape storyline Mima performs for the sake of her new career. Mima has to shed her good-girl image if she wants to make it as an actress.
Perfect Blue’s twisted portrait of fame and stardom for a Japanese pop idol transitioning into her adult career as an actress is unforgettable. The audience thinks it knows what is going on until Satoshi Kon pulls the rug out in a breathtaking sequence of plot twists. Recalling the most disturbed and effective giallo from Italy, Perfect Blue acts almost as a cautionary tale for aspiring media stars while delving into issues of identity as the audience is cleverly misdirected. This is a movie which requires paying close attention. Many will want to watch it again after the head trip that is the final act.
The anime is not for children and needed several cuts to earn an R-rating in America. This uncut presentation includes explicit violence and nudity, including a graphic rape scene. Perfect Blue could have been made into a live action movie, it just happens to be animated. Its taut storytelling and craftsmanship make it one anime that would work well as a live-action psycho-thriller.
Let’s get one thing on the minds of long-time Perfect Blue fans out of the way. GKIDS provides the wholly uncut and unrated Japanese theatrical feature, clocking in at a crisp 81:47. An R-rated version was made for America with mild changes from the uncut movie. The differences are too long to mention here, but a complete description can be found at Movie Censorship.
The 1997 anime returned to movie theaters for its 20th anniversary with a brand-new digital remastering. That remaster serves as the basis for this excellent Blu-ray presentation by GKIDS and Shout Factory. Perfect Blue is shown in its expected 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio at 1080P resolution that squeezes everything it can from the original animation and its limitations. The older cel animation, made before digital tools had invaded the animation process, resembles many other Japanese anime productions of the 1990s.
Perfect Blue is encoded in high-bitrate AVC on a BD-50. The encode is transparent to the film elements without compression artifacts. The elements are in fine shape, if revealing of the animation’s original limitations. One brief shot looks to have been upscaled from SD resolution. Originally produced as an OVA before the decision was made to turn it into a theatrical feature, the animation by Madhouse is fairly ordinary. This isn’t the fluid animation seen in Ninja Scroll or Akira. Perfect Blue lags behind in several areas. It’s a bit stiff in movement. Color saturation is weak and the color palette doesn’t jump off screen. However, black levels are stable and consistent.
It’s unlikely Perfect Blue can look much better in 1080P resolution. It’s a fine technical transfer with excellent specifications, but limited by practical limitations in the original animation.
Perfect Blue receives three alternate soundtracks that are all satisfying audio options. Most will gravitate to the remixed Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio. The anime production has a superb Japanese voice cast and decent sound design for its ordinary budget by mid-90s anime standards. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, the songs ring with detailed fidelity and clarity, and solid directionality. For the sake of posterity, the original Japanese mono (or narrow stereo?) theatrical soundtrack is included in 2.0 Dolby Digital.
The well-made and professional English dub comes in 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. It is disappointing they couldn’t include it in lossless quality. Made by veteran American voice actors largely working under pseudonyms like Ruby Marlowe and Bob Marx, this is one case where the English dub loses little, if any, meaning and emotion in translation. While Perfect Blue probably is better heard in Japanese, don’t feel embarrassed if you want to hear it in English.
Three separate sets of optional subtitles are offered. English subtitles provide a fair translation of the actual Japanese dialogue, while English SDH works for the English dub. A third set offers English translations only for songs and signs.
After a long wait to hit American shores, GKIDS through their Shout Factory partnership releases Perfect Blue to Blu-ray. It had been released in other territories, but this edition features a new digital transfer and original audio for purists.
If you are wondering in terms of completeness, this Blu-ray and DVD combo release includes almost all of the special features found on the original American DVD by Manga. It is missing an audio commentary by director Satoshi Kon and a longer lecture series found on the Japanese BD.
A moody, well-done cardboard slipcover is available. The Blu-ray is coded for Region A.
Original Perfect Blue SD Version (81:19 in 480i SD) – The original, unrestored Japanese theatrical cut is included as a bonus. It is in Japanese mono Dolby Digital 2.0 with English subtitles.
Lectures By Director Satoshi Kon (41:10 in HD) – Filmed ten years after Perfect Blue made its debut, the director dissects his film to students with host Runa Nagai in three different parts. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Kon’s creative process and points out subtleties most of the audience will have missed in the movie. He discusses the movie’s original creation as an OVA and censorship issues. In Japanese with English subtitles.
English Credits (03:47 in SD) – Credits for the English dub production.
CHAM!’s “Angel of Your Heart” Recording Session (04:22 in SD) – One of the movie’s feature songs by the fictional idol group gets recorded at a Japanese studio.
“Angel of Your Heart” Full English Version (04:15 in HD) – The song sung in English made for the English dub. Only audio is included for this extra feature.
Original US/UK Trailer (01:39 in SD)
UK Re-release Trailer (01:11 in HD)
Japanese Trailer (01:56 in HD)
Interview with Ruby Marlowe – English Mima (02:40 in HD)
Interview with Wendy Lee – English Rumi (02:21 in HD)
Interview with Bob Marx – English Mr. Me-Mania (02:20 in HD)
Interview with Junko Iwao – Japanese Mima (05:42 in SD)
Interview with Satoshi Kon (10:45 in SD)
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece remains an important and vital anime film. Its devious storytelling about an obsessed pop idol’s fan is both chilling and disturbing, proving animation is viable for mature filmmaking.
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