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As an idol singer attempts to transition toward a career as an actress, her world begins to crumble as people associated with her and her career are murdered one by one.
Singer Mima Kirigoe leaves the pop trio Cham to become a serious actress. Her change in careers causes a slow decline into insanity, as forces conspire to keep her from changing her public persona, to the extent of interfering directly in her private life. Matters aren't helped by a murderous stalker, egged on by e-mails from someone claiming to be the real Mima. Eventually, Mima's hold on reality is thoroughly undermined as she sinks into the mother of all neuroses. And she's not on her own-this film is told from the viewpoints of three characters, and each one of them is going slowly insane.
Based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and originally planned as a live-action film, PB features obvious influences from Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), Stage Fright (1950), and Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), but it has ultimately a less bleak and more humane agenda. Murai's script, which adds the film-within-a-film Double Bind to really confuse matters, remains one of anime's best since Kazunori Ito's for Patlabor. The obsessive fan stalker, who was merely a red herring in the novel, is given a succession of actual murders to perform in the anime version, though the blurred line between fantasy and reality is one of PB's greatest achievements-the director deliberately cut all transition shots that signified dream sequences or flashbacks, leaving the audience floundering in a confused world cleverly matching the protagonists' own. Kon, the former animator on the surreal Jojo's Bizarre Adventures who created environments full of faux-live-action clutter in Roujin Z, makes a virtue of a limited animation budget, depicting crowd scenes with empty faces and playing up the ghostly pallor of fluorescent lighting. The cinematography is gorgeous, as loving a rendition of real-life contemporary Tokyo as the dark, glittering forward-projection of the city in Akira (whose creator Katsuhiro Otomo has a production credit for introducing the producers to his protégé Kon, although some press releases implied his involvement in PB was far greater). The increasing influence of the Internet and cyber-reality on mass perceptions is seriously examined here (and further explored on TV in Serial Experiments Lain), but PB is also strong on traditional story values-beautifully paced plot development and a craftsman's ability to subvert the conventions of the medium. Most notable and controversial remains a scene in which Mima's character is raped, played out as a pastiche of The Accused (1988) but continually taunting the viewer with the question of whether this time it is really for real. The prosaic movements of lights and camera, and the whispered apologies of the actor playing one of the rapists who has to stay in position during a shooting break, heighten the surreality precisely because they remind us that Mima is being assaulted in a "respectable" professional context-later in the movie, she is attacked for real.
The English version is excellent despite some inevitable losses in translation. Japan may look like every other modern, industrialized, media-led country, but both language and social interaction are hugely important in this tale of fishes out of water. Some of the bowing, scraping, and statement of the obvious (culturally, an attempt to ingratiate oneself by appearing more clueless than the next person) just seems insincere with American voices. Mima's oft-repeated "Who are you?" loses some of its clout when lip-synching considerations force the actress to add a mitigating "Excuse me." The English dub also loses an extra level of emphasis-two scenes when Mima slips into her native dialect, demonstrating to the Japanese audience that not even the girl we see in private is the real Mima. The city girl-next-door whom the fans worship is actually another mask-a pretty country maid who forgets her elocution lessons when Mom phones from back home. This shift is also heard in the film's final line, when Mima announces that she is "herself" at last (and uses her native accent, not the well-spoken Tokyo dialect she's been taught to use on TV). Despite these minor cavils, PB remains one of the best anime of the late 1990s. The remake rights were optioned by director Darren Aronofsky, who lifted a shot from the film (of Mima crouching in her bathtub) for his live-action movie Requiem for a Dream (2000). Director Kon and writer Murai would return with another peek behind dramatic masks: Millennium Actress. Sequences from PB were shown onstage by Madonna as part of her Drowned World concerts in 2001. The live-action movie Perfect Blue: If This Is a Dream Wake Me Up (2002) is based on a later book in the series, and not the one that informed the anime production. LNV