REVIEW: Perfect Blue

Content Warning: mentions of rape and sexual assault


Perfect Blue is an anime that follows Mima, a young woman who leaves her pop trio to launch her acting career. As Mima is forced to shed her “good girl” image through disturbing scripts and marketing moves, she is increasingly harassed by fans, and ultimately begins to lose her grip on reality. The film explores these themes of the unreasonable expectations of fame, stalking and parasocial relationships, and the exploitation of young breakthrough actresses through the lens of an unreliable narrator.


As the film progresses, the narrative becomes less and less clear; timelines are muddied, certain scenes are repeated back to back with slight but key differences, and once hallucinations interrupt the film’s established unreality, nothing can be taken as fact. There could be very long pieces written that theorize what truly happens in the film versus what Mima hallucinates, but I believe the point of the film is to show the extreme to which Mima is pushed by showrunners, her management agency, and the public. The film utilizes its nonlinear sequence of events effectively to highlight the twisted nature of the entertainment industry, the horrors new actresses are put through in order to be taken seriously, and how Mima’s own agency and identity spiral out of her control.


That being said, the graphic nature of the film must be called into question. For context, Mima’s managers begin to question if her becoming an actress was worth leaving her music career as she is only booking small roles with very short lines. Then, one day, she is presented with a huge breakout moment that will surely get her recognition for her acting abilities – via a rape scene. Mima accepts the role, but the staging of the scene is so upsetting that even characters in the film comment on its nature. They are not allowed to film in an actual club “due to what they’re shooting,” and it is later suggested that the filming of the scene was so traumatic that Mima feels as if the event actually happened to her. Of course, this is a perfect example of how many new actresses are treated, and it is clear what kind of toll this can take on someone forced to perform such a scene. 


However, what is questionable is the execution of this criticism. The rape scene is very long and Mima’s distress is very visible and very audible – it is very, very disturbing and overwhelming. And when the scene is compared to the way violence is handled in the film – a serial killer’s kills are primarily offscreen, though gore and fight sequences are shown – the rape scene feels extreme. There is almost an obsession in media with building suspense by hiding and revealing what happens rather than showing the effects of trauma, and building character. And in Perfect Blue, it is clear the focus was meant to showcase Mima’s deteriorating mental state and need of support, but there are ways to handle such subjects with more care – perhaps the way Never Sometimes Rarely Always suggests what may have happened to its protagonist but focuses on her denial into the beginning of her healing process, and the near impossibility of her ability to receive proper care. Even Last Night In Soho – which I thought lacked a certain depth needed to say something beyond “men can be bad” – shows the before and after, the glamor and idealization of fame that leads to a change in character and behavior, but it never shows an event in such graphic detail that Perfect Blue does. Even one of the most recent episodes of House of the Dragon shows a huge improvement in the treatment of such topics from the original Game of Thrones series to the current series – a rape is not shown, the word is never said aloud. All that we see is sympathy for the victim, but the bleak reality that she must keep the event to herself as she is of a lesser status than the perpetrator and is therefore subject to more scrutiny, and a mother and victim’s disappointment in her own son and perpetrator. 


My criticism of the film is not that the film should have had a happy ending for Mina or that it should have sugar coated the horrors of what happens to her and many actresses, but that in order to take a stance criticizing the treatment of newcomers to the entertainment industry, a piece of media does not have to treat its characters the same way. To handle such topics more gently and with the understanding that an audience can imply what has happened shows more expertise in portraying this subject on screen. Trauma is not needed to establish backstory, especially at the expense of character development, not does it need to be explicitly spelled out in order to be effective. 

PREVIEW: Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue is a 1997 anime film directed by Satoshi Kon (also known for Paprika). The film follows a retired musician who becomes an actress, and in the process, loses her grip on reality. A critically acclaimed psychological thriller, the film focuses on identity, voyeurism, and performance – particularly that of modern pop idols.

I initially heard about this film after seeing many parallels drawn between Perfect Blue and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, and was under the impression that the latter was inspired by the anime. However, upon further research I have found that Aronofsky denied this while acknowledging the similarities. Still, I am curious to see how Perfect Blue could have served as a jumping off point for the more recent film – as I do enjoy Black Swan – and am also interested to see how it translates as an anime. Given the similarities between the two films, I am also intrigued by the limits of both live action and animation, and what one makes possible that the other cannot achieve.

Perfect Blue is showing as part of the State Theater’s Late Night series on Friday, October 21 at 9:30pm.

REVIEW: Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a Studio Ghibli film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki that follows a young man who searches for a forest spirit that can lift his curse, one that was inflicted upon him by a possessed demon boar. This is one of Miyazaki’s darker films, depicting the way in which human progress often comes at the expense of nature, as well as at the expense of other humans. 

The key players in this film and what make it worth watching are a young woman named San who was raised by wolves, and Lady Eboshi, the woman who runs a nearby town where her ironworks provide the primary source of income. Eboshi actively seeks to rid the forest of San and the wolves in order to expand her town and presence as a threat to other villages. The forest is represented by the Deer, Wolf, and Boar Gods, who seek to protect their home and clearly voice their hatred for humans. The way the relationship between humans and the environment is particularly compelling, with demons being created by the violence perpetrated by the humans of Irontown, and Eboshi justifying her actions as Irontown provides a safe space for sex workers and lepers. Eboshi is the clear antagonist of the film and is driven by greed, but I find it interesting that she also sees the forest as a source of evil, and believes San was corrupted by the animals in the forest. I always find it interesting when an antagonist is more interesting than the protagonist – Ashitaka is a little boring – and I also really enjoyed how the forest was essentially a living creature, represented by the Gods and San, all acting defensively with reason to hate the humans. 

Another aspect of the film worth noting is the animation. Studio Ghibli is known for its whimsical background and character designs, and Princess Mononoke continues this trend, but also incorporates more violent imagery to go along with its themes. There are several fight sequences in this film, the best being a confrontation between Lady Eboshi and San early on. I particularly loved the animation for San’s movements, how quick and aggressive she ran and fought, and how acrobatic her technique was at the same time. One of my favorite shots from the film is in this scene: it is from San’s point of view as she charges head on at Eboshi, who remains centered in the frame as the townsfolk scatter out of the frame.

I also loved the design of the demon that Ashitaka fights in the beginning of the film and again, I love the movement. The way it crawls is terrifying and the tendrils coming out of its body are disgusting yet mesmerizing to watch (click the image to see for yourself). 

There is so much to appreciate about Princess Mononoke – its themes, characters, technical aspects, and more. It is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films and perhaps one of their more underrated films – and I highly recommend it. 

PREVIEW: Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a 1997 Studio Ghibli film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film takes place somewhere between 1336-1573 AD, during Japan’s Muromachi period, but incorporates the fantasy elements Studio Ghibli is known for. Exploring themes of the environment – primarily humans’ relationship with and their dependency on nature – the film follows a prince who finds himself wrapped up in a conflict between the forest spirits and a nearby town. 

I have grown up watching Studio Ghibli films but was always afraid to watch Princess Mononoke because of the more violent imagery compared to that of My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. While Miyazaki is known for these children’s films, he often touches on themes of war, such as in his film Porco Rosso. About making Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki has said: “I learned that mankind doesn’t learn. After [Porco Rosso], we couldn’t go back and make some film like Kiki’s Delivery Service. It felt like children were being born to this world without being blessed. How could we pretend to them that we’re happy?” I watched Princess Mononoke recently and loved how it touched on heavier topics, with a hopeful ending that at the same time is not escapist, and does not undo all of the strife that had been depicted throughout the film. I highly recommend watching this film, especially in theaters. 

Princess Mononoke will be playing on Friday, February 4 at 10pm as part of the Michigan Theater’s Late Nights series. 

REVIEW: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie follows the crew of bounty hunters aboard the Bebop as they chase after a biological terrorist who intends to wipe out the human population of Mars with an unknown pathogen. The film takes place between episodes 22 and 23 of the original anime series, and was released three years after the original series’ conclusion. 

I have never seen the original Cowboy Bebop series, but I still very much enjoyed the film and felt like I was keeping up with the story, characters, and world. The film throws you right into the world without much exposition, but I prefer that a film won’t drag out an introduction. There were some moments where I was unsure if I was missing some context or if I was just a little confused about the storyline, but nothing was too big of an obstacle in my overall comprehension of the film. The film does not rely heavily on the lore of the original series, which allows new audiences to enjoy the film alongside long-time fans. 

I was most impressed by the film’s soundtrack, art, and action. Yoko Kanno, the original series’ composer, returned to score the film and perform the soundtrack with her band. The soundtrack elevated the atmosphere of the film, whether it was upbeat rock instrumentals in action sequences or subtle, more moody music as the crew chases after the bounty. 

As for the art, I thought the backgrounds were particularly worth noting – they were all incredibly detailed and drawn from interesting perspectives and angles. I liked the use of bold but less-saturated, almost matte colors. I also really enjoyed the character designs, specifically for Spike and Ed. I found Spike’s ridiculous height to be amusing, especially in the montages of him walking through crowds. I think his design is very clever, with his long and lanky stature contrasted with his suave and easy going demeanor. On the other hand, I loved Ed’s ridiculous way of moving around – the way she flails her limbs and entire body around while moving can be likened to a wet noodle. I loved how the animation showcased both that Ed is a child and a genius – for example, there is a scene where she is hacking into a database to retrieve crucial information for Spike as sea creatures swim across the screen and attack the windows that pop up. 

The action sequences are perhaps the most impressive, not only because of the accompanying score but of the moves the characters use in their fighting styles. None of it is overly gorey, but there is just enough gore that you recognize how brutal the fights are. I’ve found that in recent action or superhero films, there is a lot of mindless fighting and shooting at faceless and nameless CGI antagonists, but the action in Cowboy Bebop feels more believable – you can better understand what it would be like for Spike to slam your face into a handrail than if he was shooting at you while flying through the sky on alien spacecraft.

Though Cowboy Bebop isn’t the genre I typically gravitate towards, I had a very enjoyable time watching it. I am interested in exploring the series, but for the time being I thought the film did an excellent job of introducing me to the world of the series.

PREVIEW: Cowboy Bebop

As part of the Michigan Theater’s Late Nights Series, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is playing tomorrow at 10pm. The film, alternatively known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, is set between two episodes of the 1998 anime series, though it was released in 2001 after the completion of the series. The film follows Spike Spiegel and his crew of bounty hunters as their spaceship, Bebop, land on Mars in 2071 chasing after an ex-military officer turned biological terrorist. 

Several staff members of the original series returned to work on the film, including director Shinichiro Watanabe, writer Keiko Nobumoto, character designer/animation director Toshihiro Kawamoto, composer Yoko Kanno, as well as the voice actors. The film received some mixed but generally positive reviews from critics when it premiered, with the most praise for the score. It is interesting to compare the reception to the film compared to the recent Netflix live-action series, which was helmed by different creators but did bring back Yoko Kanno. As someone who has not watched the original series, it seems that there is generally more encouragement to watch the film instead of the live-action series in order to watch a continuation of the original that actually preserves its spirit and quality. 

Tickets are on sale for Cowboy Bebop: The Movie on Friday, Jan. 7 at 10pm!