Made in 1997 and based on the novel of the same name, Perfect Blue is one of those rare anime features which could have easily been live-action but which works so well as what it is that it's hard to picture it as anything else.
A psychological thriller, Perfect Blue follows a character called Mima, the leader of a popular girl band called CHAM! who decides to retire from her music career in order to focus on trying to be a respected actress. Unfortunately, she learns that her new career is a very different, much scarier path to take which demands various un-glamorous undertakings which, she fears, might end up ruining her life. Throughout all this she is not only plagued by a creepy fan who may or may not be messing with her through the internet but also by the ghost of her old self who constantly judges everything she does and might just be driving her insane. Eventually, strange murders start occurring around her and the film world, her hallucinations, her dreams and reality all get merged to the point where Mima can't tell one from the other. It's a twisted, biting satire on celebrity, filmmaking, fandom and popularity in the vein of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Sunset Boulevard or even Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie. This is a stylish yet unnerving, gritty and mean little film which sadistically pushes its main character to the limits of her sanity and, in the process, drags you in to its demented web of unpleasantness. It's suspenseful as hell and once you get into it, you'll find yourself glued to your screen until the very end.
The animation throughout is stunning but never overly slick in order to keep that all-important sleazy vibe intact as poor old Mima is made to slowly debase and lose herself for the sake of ambition. It's a character you do feel for very quickly since she's not after fame or fortune, she's after more than that: a legitimate, rewarding career she can work hard for and ultimately be genuinely proud of. Sadly, everything seems to be against her and it's almost like she's being punished for what she's trying to do. Then again, once the final reveal happens, it all makes sense very quickly and your point of view of what happened previously will soon change completely. Without spoiling it for you, Mima turns out to be a far stronger female character than you expected. Perception is an important theme in Perfect Blue and the film really shows how everything can be turned upside down just by someone perceiving something a certain way. I'm being cryptic but, trust me, it'll make sense when you see the whole thing. This is a rare anime feature in that, like some of David Lynch's works, it does demand and benefits from repeat viewings. This is a complex, artistically intricate and impressive piece of work, one which definitely deserves to be seen by more people, whether they're fans of anime or not.
Perfect Blue may be slightly derivative in that it explores certain themes which live-action films have tackled in various ways but its take on it is so beautifully done and so smart that it ends up feeling completely unique. Needless to say I recommend this one, it's easily one of the best anime features I've seen.
An unsettling mini-masterpiece.