Satoshi Kon‘s Perfect Blue turns 20 this year, and in honor of the anniversary, it’s heading back to theaters. A brand new digital transfer was commissioned for this release by GKIDS, who’s sending it to around 500 screens nationwide. This is a movie that that few people on these shores have seen, let alone in a theater, and so it’s the best chance to check out this classic film.

Here’s why you should make it a priority.

A Perfect Story

Loosely based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Perfect Blue is an unsettling psychological horror film, but just labelling it that sells it short.

The film revolves around a pop idol named Mima. She’s part of a terrible industry that churns out young, typically adorable stars for mass audiences and sales. Mima is in a group called “CHAM!” that is massively successful despite the name, but she wants to pursue acting and be taken seriously. She doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with her life, but she’s tired of the pop star world and wants to challenge herself. Naturally, some fans of hers don’t like this, especially when a regular role on a popular TV show starts to show a more mature side of the young starlet.

Her cute, clean-cut image is soon destroyed as manipulative people steer her towards more risque scenes, including one horrific and uncomfortable scene that the writer and director push on her. She has mixed feelings on this tactic of breaking into the new industry, but it’s popular with audiences, and isn’t that the only thing that matters?.

At least one fan especially doesn’t like it, and people around her start dying. Mima starts to wonder what’s really happening, and if she’s losing her mind. Could her former persona have taken on its own life?

A Perfect New Print

Perfect Blue was always a gorgeous film, but it took us a while for us to see it. Literally. The film was first released in the United States in 1999 on VHS, perhaps the worst possible format to appreciate this film’s look.

This new digital print is pristine, allowing you to soak in the stunning colors and animation the way that Kon intended. The film has long been out of print on Blu-Ray (a cursory search on Amazon sees people selling the 2008 release for $160+!), so the inevitable new release will be a must-own.

Even if you’ve seen the film before, you’re going to want to see this print. I was lucky enough to check out an early press screening for it and was blown away – I didn’t remember that the film looked this good, most likely because it never has.

Perfect for Anime Haters

Anime gets a lot of flack, and a lot of it is because of its fanbase. Look, we’ve all been harassed by people with anime avatars on Twitter. You likely know a bunch of folks who simply refuse to watch any anime, potentially because they have preconceived notions about who watches anime. Don’t let those bad apples ruin an entire film style for you! But still: what’s the best way to get into anime? 

Sure, you could point to Studio Ghibli for universally loved films, but if you want to prove that it’s a style that can be used for films for adults, there’s a few old standbys. Many point friends to Akira or Ghost in the Shell to sell them on anime… or Grave of the Fireflies, if they also want to ruin said friend’s day. But I would argue that Perfect Blue might be the best way to prove that that this is an artform to be taken seriously.

This is a directorial debut on par with Blood Simple or Get Out. It’s a film that’s incredibly self-assured out of the gate, has something vital to say about the world, and kicked off Kon’s remarkable and all-too-short career. After this, Kon made Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika before he died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46.

Perfect Blue is a scary and disturbing film on par with anything that’s been made since, featuring astonishing visual storytelling. You’ll know this right from the opening sequence of the film, which features a brilliant sequence that keeps cutting back and forth from scenes of Mima performing as part of her pop group to her actual mundane life as she goes food shopping and commutes on the subway. It sets up the rift that’s about to appear in physical form of her public and private personas beautifully, with such apparent ease it makes you wonder why more animated films don’t feel like genuine capital “C” Cinema. But there are too few Satoshi Kons in the world.

Perfectly Relevant

It’s always interesting to check back in on movies you loved a long time ago and see how they’ve aged, both with your sensibilities and those of the world. And while this is a 20 year-old-movie and it does show its age, it hasn’t aged as much as you’d expect. There’s a moment in the film where a friend buys a computer for Mima and shows her how to connect to the internet, and the digitally clueless star starts to read what people are saying about her online. It’s mildly amusing to see her confusion over using this crazy new technology (she opens up Netscape Navigator!) until what she sees feels all too common. She finds a blog from an apparent stalker that intricately details her days – where she’s been, what she bought, how she’s feeling. As she starts to crack from the pressure of her new career and the violence happening in her life, she starts to wonder if the Mima that wrote this actually exists.

While Kon was making a valid criticism about the pop idol industry, today the idea of obsessed fans tracking your every move and harassing you to the point where it upends your life seems a common occurrence.

Plus there’s the fact that nearly everyone now has at least two personas. It doesn’t matter how “real” you’re trying to be online or on social media – you’re putting an alternate version of yourself out there into the world. Identity theft is one thing. The idea that this version could split from you and become its own thing is terrifying. Especially if that persona wants its life back.

Perfect Experience

I just want to yell “See this!” over and over again. There’s so few chances to see films of this level on the big screen.

Perfect Blue is a film that demands to be seen in theaters. It’s playing on 500 screens nationwide in its original Japanese with English subtitles on September 6, and on September 10 with an English dub. (If you live in New York City, the Metrograph has more screenings this weekend!)

Do not miss it.

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