Pāfekuto burū

Synopsis: Pop singer Mima Kirigoe looks forward to a bright new career when she quits her chart-topping trio to become an actress. When she lands a role in a sexually-charged murder mystery, Mima’s life begins to fall apart. Reality and hallucinations merge into a terrifying netherworld where innocence is lost and dreams become nightmares.

Quickly descending into a dangerous state of paranoid delusions, Mima watches as Internet sites describing every intimate detail of her life. Helpless and afraid, she watches as her associates are threatened and killed by a mysterious stalker.

In the tradition of great suspense masters, director Satoshi Kon (Memories), special advisor Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and Madhouse Studios (Ninja Scroll), bring Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s thrilling suspense novel to the screen, in a tour-de-force that brings animation to a bold new level.

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Pāfekuto burū 8.75

eyelights: its mind-bending plot. Satoshi Kon’s storytelling.
eyesores: its slightly-dated animation.

“Who are you?”

I’m a big fan of Satoshi Kon’s work. Though the filmmaker and animator has a small body of work (he passed away suddenly in 2010, at the age of 46), it is richer and more stimulating than most of his peers’; he’s always had a tendency to delve deeply into his characters’ inner lives, irrespective of the genre he tackled.

It also seemed as though he was adept at any genre; whereas other anime directors frequently get typecasted, he was able to navigate through a contemplative period piece drama with ‘Sennen joyu‘, a heartwarming mystery comedy with ‘Tokyo Goddofazazu‘ and a psychedelic science-fiction thriller with ‘Papurika’.

It all began with ‘Pafekuto buru’.

Loosely based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s ‘Pafekuto buru: Kanzen hentai’, the 1997 motion picture is a Hitchcockian psychological thriller that follows Mima, a young pop star, as she tries to transition from the stage to the screen. Unfortunately, someone is stalking her, mirroring her activities and influencing her life.

And, sometimes, people die…

But Mima has no idea who that person is and who’s behind the popular online fansite ‘Mima’s Room’, which purports to be her official diary. She’s also slowly becoming incapable of distinguishing between reality, delusion, and the show that she’s working on. As she become more confused, the stalker creeps closer.

Eventually, Mima is literally and figuratively haunted by the ghost of her past.

‘Pafekuto buru’ is an incredible directorial debut: though it suffers from some technical limitations, no doubt due to a limited budget, the way that Kon tells his story is nothing short of masterful; even the way he juxtaposes and intercuts scenes helps to contextualize some aspects of the plot. Everything is calculated.

The story is a mind-boggler because we’re taken into Mima’s experience and, as she loses her grasp on reality, we’re no longer able to trust what we are seeing: is she being manipulated, is she merely confused or has she completely lost it? We don’t know, but Kon gives us many different perspectives to consider.

In fact, there are times when he purposely blurs the lines so that we may think we’re watching Mima – only to realize that we’re watching her TV character. We also don’t always know when other people are there for real or are just figments of her imagination. That her days blur into one also confounds matters more.

My favourite abstraction is a character who resembles Mima’s former pop starlet self and who is actually a personification of her and other people’s regret. This regret speaks to them and influences their actions, but it’s not actually a real person. This is an incredibly astute touch, a great storytelling device, by Kon.

The animation isn’t always top-notch (I highly doubt it was made on a Disney budget – especially being his first feature), but Kon does a few remarkably intelligent things (ex: not choreographing Mima’s pop trio in unison, or editing a chase sequence as one would a live-action film) that add an extra layer of realism.

Even though this is an animated film, Kon manages to bring Mima’s story to life: he probes her psyche, takes us through her emotional journey, but also makes the world she’s in feel real, using a language that is familiar to us. It’s hard not to be sucked into it whole – and that’s before the layers of intrigue are peeled.

‘Pafekuto buru’ is a superb motion picture, and it’s an even more remarkable animated one: given that North American animated films are generally designed for mass consumption, it’s spectacular to find one that is not just for mature audiences only but which requires us to remain vigilant to fully experience it.

It can be emotionally-grueling, in light of all that Mima goes through in the grimy world of the entertainment industry, but it’s a satisfying mind-trip: trying to strip reality from fiction from delusion is like putting together an intricate puzzle; when the full picture finally reveals itself, it’s immensely rewarding.

As far as debuts go, this is a stunner.

It’s a must-see.

Date of viewing: November 21, 2017

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