In the trailer for Perfect Blue, Roger Corman is quoted: “If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney they’d make a picture like this.” I say Corman misses the mark a little. Perfect Blue feels more like a collaboration between Hayao Miyazaki* (Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service) and Brian DePalma (Body Double, Sisters) — but only at first.
The introduction sets up a silly if juicy plot: a pert and innocent young pop idol named Mima leaves her musical career to pursue acting. Soon after, Mima starts receiving messages by fax and by internet (jarringly described in this 1997 film as “that thing that’s really popular lately”) from an obsessed fan or, um, someone… someone who knows every detail of her daily life, someone who witnesses the small humiliations of her new career, someone who describes the darkest aspects of her thoughts in the first person. And then some, um, stuff starts to happen.
If the first act of Perfect Blue feels like a partnership between Miyazaki and DePalma, the second act veers into the territory of David Lynch or Roman Polanski, tangling up the seemingly straightforward stalker-thriller with an interplay of reality and fantasy, muddling the timelines and narrative flow, and toying with our expectations about identity and agency.
Fittingly, Perfect Blue gained new fame recently as a possible inspiration for Black Swan. There are some glancing similarities, but that’s all they are — similarities of theme and story including the pressures of fame, deteriorating self-image, and the difficulty of discerning reality from desire. (Arguably, Black Swan contains a few momentary homages: the subway window, the bathtub scene.) You could put together a fun-but-harrowing Black & Blue double feature, but Perfect Blue would pair equally well with Polanski’s The Tenant or Repulsion or with Lynch’s Inland Empire.
* By namechecking Hayao Miyazaki, I’m not implying that Perfect Blue is suitable for children — oh, my goodness, NO. Yikes.