Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue Is The Kind Of Anime Masterpiece That Reminds Us Of What Animation Can Be

(Welcome to Animation Celebration, a recurring feature where we explore the limitless possibilities of animation as a medium. In this first edition: "Perfect Blue.")

2022 has been an insulting year for animation. In March, the Academy Awards loudly declared that animation is something for children to enjoy and adults to tolerate before giving out the award for Best Animated Feature, a disrespectful comment that perpetuates the stigma that animated works are "lesser than" because the medium is often enjoyed by younger audiences. HBO Max absolutely obliterated their catalog of animated content as a money-saving measure following the Warner Bros. and Discovery merger, and Netflix has canceled multiple planned animated projects this year, including Mike Judge's "Bad Crimes," which was already in the middle of production. Today, Disney CEO Bob Chapek put his foot in his mouth yet again this year, during Wall Street Journal's Tech Live presentation.

"I always say that when our fans and our audiences put their kids to bed at night after watching 'Pinocchio' or 'Dumbo' or 'The Little Mermaid,' they're probably not going to tune into another animated movie," Chapek said. "They want something for them." Chapek's comments are egregious at best and a total slap in the face to the entire animation industry at worst, but are also, quite frankly, factually inaccurate. Of course, there are plenty of animated films that cater to children, but the world of adult animation is vibrant, thriving, and has been around for a very, very long time.

For all those adults wanting "something for them," we at /Film have your back. Adult animation may be getting the shaft by some, but not us. We're here to give a medium of film their long overdue flowers, starting with one of the very best: Satoshi Kon's "Perfect Blue."

Why you need to see this film

It's hard to say this without sounding like we're speaking in hyperbole, but "Perfect Blue" is one of the greatest animated films of all time. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, because "Perfect Blue" used to be incredibly hard to track down and, therefore, missed some vital generational sharing. The 1997 anime centers on a young pop idol named Mima (Junko Iwao) who leaves the world of music behind to pursue a career as a serious actor, shedding her "good girl" image in the process. As she dramatically changes her public image, Mima's sense of reality starts to crumble. An obsessive fan begins stalking her every move, a website documenting her personal life pops up overnight, and she begins to see visions of her past self everywhere she looks. "Perfect Blue" is a tale of obsession, and the way fame consumes us whole, regardless of what side of fame we're on.

"Perfect Blue" is the first film directed by Satoshi Kon, who would go on to craft additional classics like "Millennium Actress," "Tokyo Godfathers," and "Paprika." "Perfect Blue" is a harrowing psychological thriller, clearly inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock but presented with such ferocity, the film has inspired much of the work of Darren Aronofsky. The subject matter of "Perfect Blue" is certainly not meant for children, and some of the scenes are legitimately devastating to watch. And yet there's a sense of beauty cloaking even the most unsettling moments of "Perfect Blue," and Kon's magnificent artistry keeps you mesmerized, unable to look away from the screen.

Horror animation not meant for kids

As Mima's grasp on reality grows weaker, every frame of "Perfect Blue" reflects her descent into mania. With the story told through the animated medium, Kon is able to seamlessly present graphic imagery with psychologically destructive sleights of hand, never having to sacrifice intent or framing for the sake of "which shot an actor performed better." The limit of Kon's imagination does not exist, allowing the violence and body count to escalate without being held down by the logistics of "reality." The film borrows elements from slasher films and Italian giallo thrillers, keeping audiences on edge every step of the way, and haunted long after the credits roll. "Perfect Blue" is one of those films that you never forget seeing for the first time, and once you realize the film debuted in 1997, it'll be impossible not to see its influence in live-action imitators. 

I'm usually the kind of person who doesn't mind spoilers, but I've intentionally chosen not to let any more details loose, hoping that new viewers visiting "Perfect Blue" for the first time will go in knowing as little as possible. Satoshi Kon, unfortunately, passed away in 2010, which meant he never got to see his work appreciated on a global scale the way it was in Japan. While there's no such thing as a bad Satoshi Kon flick, this nightmarish vision in white, pink, and blue, is arguably his magnum opus. For adults looking to enjoy an animated feature meant for them, you can't go wrong with "Perfect Blue."