The context of this screening at the Manchester Animation Festival, marking the silver anniversary of anime classic Perfect Blue, lends it an additional frisson that would almost certainly be absent if it was shown to a more generalist audience.

Like delegates to a comic convention without the cosplay, or students from a diffident land on an exchange trip with extroversion, the devotees of Japanese animation clustered in the darkness at HOME are certainly less fervent than the otaku who obsess over Mima, the cracked actress who is the film’s protagonist, and Cham!, the J-Pop trio she once fronted. Fans, nonetheless, they assuredly are, and the narrative that, perhaps, may cause some of them to shift a little uneasily in their seats, meticulously picks away at the stitches of fandom’s one-sided relationship, bleeding out from the faultline where hobby-like interest overspills into obsession.

Released in the first flush of internet access, when fax machines still spewed out laser-guided messages and before the Skinner box of social media had conditioned the online world into clicking reflexively away for the reward of momentary recognition, the directorial debut of Satoshi Kon presciently anticipates the deluge that was then only a stream. Indeed, the neophyte director grasps his opportunity as though it’s a chance that might never recur, accentuating the dislocations and misdirections of Sadayuki Mori’s script, deploying an image system of mirrored surfaces and cameras to isolate and multiply Mima in the frame, emphasising her captive loneliness, and through it, a lack of a reliable external reference point. Transitions, meanwhile, make frequent use of overlapping visual elements, fluidly linking one scene to the next, so that the more jagged cuts between exhausted sleep, nightmare and still more nightmarish reality land like disorienting blows to the head.

Impressively enough in a directorial debut, the elisions between the subjective and the objective, the dreamed and the actual, are handled with all the disquieting precision of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Moreover, there’s a sense in which the particular conventions of the anime form, already at one remove from the literal, conspire in both the required suspension of disbelief, and the necessity of turning a blind eye to the occasional inconsistencies in the film’s internal logic. Especially effective is the uncanny motion of Mima’s past self, a J-Pop doppelganger who skips along in graceful silence, unbound by gravity and ominous as the grave.

Compounding these achievements is the careful calibration by which the elements of Perfect Blue‘s plot, both internal and external, are opposed and balanced. The hairline cracks in Mima’s psyche are fractured further by the stresses put on it by her exposure to Mima’s Room, an online diary written with all the accuracy of either first-hand experience or surveillance. Unable to be certain of even her own authorship, the tension is ratcheted up further by the unnerving parallels between the plot developments in Double Bind, the psychological thriller in which she is acting, and that of her own life, especially as those who have mistreated her, one by one, begin to meet bloody comeuppances. Meanwhile, despite the attentions of Rumi, her older assistant and would-be protectress, a disfigured stalker with the apparent ability to penetrate a closed set watches over her every breath.

The film is not without its flaws, of course. For all that its apparent aim is to portray Mima’s psychological reality, the gaze of its camera can too often be a prurient one, lingering like the lens of the photographer who grooms her with practised ease into centrefold pornography, assuring her that the path to being taken seriously is by trivialising herself. By having its cheesecake and eating it too, the sincerity of the film’s implicit condemnation of the rites of compromise she is forced to endure is inevitably called into question.

An imperfect blue, then, even a shade dated, but one whose hues still complement the colour palette of today, when the flood waters of self-appointed celebrity never recede, and the Twitter chorus trawling through them is never short of an opinion.

By Desmond Bullen

For more information about the Manchester Animation Festival, please click here.