Perfect Blue review: Peerless animation that inspired ‘Black Swan’

The late Satoshi Kon’s psychodrama about celebrity is a screwy masterpiece

Perfect Blue
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Director: Satoshi Kon
Cert: Club
Genre: Animation
Starring: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, Masaaki Ōkura
Running Time: 1 hr 21 mins

Satoshi Kon, the Japanese film-maker and comic-book artist, died from pancreatic cancer in 2010. He was 46. Seven years on and finally the late, great director gets a criminally belated theatrical bow in the UK and Ireland.

This is a big deal. Not least because in the years since Satoshi Kon's death, his work has become a cornerstone for Hollywood's cleverer output. Christopher Nolan's Inception distilled Kon's Paprika into a less effective blockbuster package. Darren Aronofsky was attached to a live-action remake of Kon's Perfect Blue for many years, until he loosely adapted that film's story and themes into the endlessly enjoyable Black Swan.

Perfect Blue remains peerless, nonetheless. This intriguing psychodrama, which ought to be mandatory viewing for every Tom, Ronan, or Harry who makes it in a boyband or girlband, centres on Mima Kirigoe (Junko), a 21-year-old pop idol who dumps the pink, bubblegum girliness of life in a pop trio to forge an edgy new career as an actor. Her first major (and purposely edgy role) casts her as a rape victim in a strip club. Her fans, as personified by one particular obsessive – known as "Me-Mania" – are not happy. Even her own reflection in the mirror seems miffed. "You're no longer a pop idol,'' it chides. "You're a filthy woman now, like a slut. No one likes a pop idol with a tarnished reputation."

And then things start to get really screwy. Why are her thoughts turning up on a fan site? Why are people involved in the production turning up dead?


These queries are teased out alongside barbed contemporary notions about celebrity, mental illness and fandom. Japanese Lolita culture becomes a chilling metaphor for all gender relations. Paranoid schizophrenia is conflated with hero worship.

Just as Kon's earlier film Millennium Actress channelled Setsuko Hara, Perfect Blue is every Spice Girl, Shirelle and Supreme of yore refashioned and recast in Bergman's persona. An edgy new career, indeed.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic