Forsaking the usual anime fantasy terrain for a straight suspense plot that might easily have been executed in live-action form, director Satoshi Kon's debut pic, "Perfect Blue," is a psychological thriller that intrigues without quite hitting the bull's-eye. Animated feature is currently getting limited U.S. release in an English-dubbed version.

Forsaking the usual anime fantasy terrain for a straight suspense plot that might easily have been executed in live-action form, director Satoshi Kon’s debut pic, “Perfect Blue,” is a psychological thriller that intrigues without quite hitting the bull’s-eye. Animated feature is currently getting limited U.S. release in an English-dubbed version.

At the urging of her agent, innocuous heroine Mima has decided to leave her mildly popular girl-pop trio for an acting career, starting out with a small role in a TV dramatic series. But this change doesn’t go down well with some fans, in particular one who posts disturbingly intimate details about her life on a Web page. She’s also being shadowed by a menacing man with long hair and bad teeth. Soon the screenwriter and photographer who have given her a sexy new image turn up dead, brutally stabbed.

Even more unnerving, Mima starts experiencing strange visions of her former pop-star self — a malevolent alter ego seemingly bent on destroying the “real” protagonist. Is Mima dreaming, delusional or being stalked — or is she a multiple-personality killer?

“Perfect Blue” gets much more interesting once it develops beyond stock woman-in-peril situations to create a sort of pulp Pirandello thriller, as an increasingly disoriented Mima can no longer distinguish among reality, illusion and her TV dramatics. Though a climactic revelation falls well short of tying up various loose narrative ends, at least the trickier second half’s red herrings shift attention from the banal dialogue and scant character development.

Animation is surprisingly routine, with the best work expended on some noirish nighttime cityscapes. Though “Perfect Blue,” based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, ultimately disappoints with its just-middling tension and underdeveloped scenario, it still holds attention by trying something different for the genre. U.S. voice talent contributions range from competent to weak.

Perfect Blue

Japanese

Production

A Palm Pictures release of a Manga Entertainment presentation of a Rex Entertainment Co. production. Produced by Hiroaki Inoue, Masao Maruyama. Directed by Satoshi Kon. Screenplay, Sadyuki Murai, based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi.

Crew

Camera (color), Hisao Shirai; editor, Harutoshi Ogata; music , Masahiro Ikumi; production designer, Mitsusuke Hayakawa; art director, Nobutaka Ike; special adviser, Katsuhiro Otomo; animation director and character designer, Hideki Hamazu; original character designer, Hiashi Eguchi. Reviewed at Opera Plaza Cinema, San Francisco, Oct. 19, 1999. Running time: 80 MIN.
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