The buzz that sprung up around Japanese animation when Akira and a very few other amazing movies showed up in the West has dwindled somewhat, with video sell-through shelves groaning under the weight of repetitive, noisy anime about shrill gun-toting Lolitas, demon rapists and giant robot warriors. This striking picture is about as far as it's possible to get from those conventions, pulling off the rare trick of telling a story worth doing in live action while managing visual effects only possible in the cartoon medium.
The leading character is Mima Kirigoe (Junko), a 21-year-old pop idol who ditches the pink stockings and ballet dress of her bubblegum trio to forge a new career as an actress on a television psycho drama. The problem is that the old image seems not to want to be ditched and begins to persecute the real girl, acting through a violent fan and an internet home-page that presents a creepily well-informed but bogus diary. Mima, egged on by her agent and cautioned by his assistant (herself an ex-idol), further trashes her squeaky-clean persona by taking part in a lurid rape scene and posing for nude photographs, whereupon the plots of real life and the TV series blend disorientingly, a couple of violent murders take place, and Mima finds herself menaced by the apparent ghost of her former self.
Though it's a neat woman-in-peril thriller, this is most striking as a look into the life of a Japanese media sensation, used up at the end of her teens, and squashed into a tiny apartment with her goldfish and too many ghosts. The film even goes so far as to expose the bizarre streak of paedophilia in Japanese pop culture, whereby it's all right for a doll-like girl child to be a fantasy object but a sexual woman is shockingly transgressive. Perfect Blue is scary, funny, poignant and thoughtful, but also delivers thriller set-pieces that rank with the best of De Palma or Argento, marking director Satoshi Kon as a name to watch.