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Two Films You Should See – Stalker and Perfect Blue

January 18, 2013

PerfectBluestalker-film-poster-tarkovsky

This year, FilmJuice have decided to compile a list of a hundred films that everyone should see. I was lucky enough to kick-off the series this week with my two selections: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.

Unlike Western science fiction films that use spectacular action sequences and fast-paced narratives to excite and entertain their audiences, Stalker uses a combination of extraordinary visual richness and extreme narrative simplicity to coax its audience into a mood of thoughtful curiosity. To call Stalker a ‘boring’ film is both technically correct and completely misleading as the lack of complex plot and distracting characters is a deliberate move designed to force the audience to reflect upon what it is they are actually seeing. Having placed the audience in a state of engaged curiosity, Tarkovsky engineers the cinematic equivalent of a spiritual experience.

My reading of Stalker is somewhat different to the one I put forward back in 2009 but I think the two are broadly compatible.

The brilliance of Perfect Blue lies not just in its ability to handle the dovetailing realities of a disturbed mind in a manner that is both poised and extremely rigorous, it also uses these fragmented realities to critique a cultural environment that is extremely resistant to re-invention and experimentation. This is a film about how society dehumanises and destabilises those women who refuse to stay in the box allotted them by the men who would control their lives.

I have not written about Perfect Blue before but it remains one of my very favourite films.  The rape scene I discuss is triggery as fuck for obvious reasons but I think it remains one of the most brutally ambivalent cinematic sequences every produced. Horrific, self-aware and even more horrific because of its self-awareness.

3 Comments
  1. February 5, 2013 12:26 pm

    I watched Perfect Blue last night and enjoyed it, so thanks for the recommendation. I’d never even heard of the film before reading this.

    While I like your interpretation of the film as articulated in the FilmJuice article, and think it stands up to scrutiny, I was disappointed with aspects of the film’s conclusion.

    (Spoiler warning, for those who care about such things.)

    So the true antagonist turns out to be an older woman who has become obsessed with Mimi, most likely as an almost virginal figure who symbolises purity, youth, innocence and beauty (in contrast to the heavier-set and less attractively-drawn antagonist). After the film spends so much time portraying ingrained misogyny it’s disappointing to see it falling back on a trope as traditional as an older woman being driven insane with envy and resentment.

    I appreciate that the film dates from 1998 and Japan, to the best of my knowledge, is a country where movement away from traditional gender roles (or at least widespread criticism of traditional gender roles) has been less pronounced than in some other developed nations/late capitalist democracies. All the same such an unquestioned use of a common trope is jarring in the context of this film.

    What are your thoughts?

    (A couple of minor things I also enjoyed: the recurring motif of the fish in the tank, and the way Mimi has to be shown what the Internet is as she’s never encountered it before. And the fact that her computer looks to be an ancient unit running Windows 3.1. 1998! :D)

  2. February 5, 2013 1:32 pm

    I entirely agree with you that the portrayal of the older woman is intensely problematic. As you say, it’s very disappointing that a film so aware of the endemic misogyny of the Japanese entertainment industry should feature an older woman desperately clawing at youth and purity.

    I could try to defend the film by suggesting that the older woman is, much like the imaginary psycho, over-invested in Mimi’s J-pop persona but the lack of space afforded that character makes it hard to look beyond the interpretation you put on her actions. Given that I think the meat of the film lies in Mimi’s journey rather than the actual details of the murders surrounding her, I’m tempted to say that the real identity of the killer is an afterthought but they still could have gone down a different path.

    I also enjoyed Mimi’s hesitant encounters with the Internet and online fandom. That all seems to long ago!

  3. Puppet permalink
    May 17, 2013 12:55 pm

    misogyny? a bit harsh. im not sure how you got to conclusion that she was driven ‘insane’ by envy and resentment. Actually – Rumi was protecting mima, or atleast the mima that she wanted, as she believes that mima has tarnished the pop idol identity that she loved. Maybe the motherly-yet-rejecting nature twitches a nerve – but that is not misogyny. I read Rumi as someone who helped to create, and then live through Mima.

    I thought the ending was very tight, in what was a provocative film. I remember watching the end of the film at a cinema, and my mate, who was one of those people who would talk through a film – went completely silent half way in, and was competely absorbed to the end.

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