Hyped since its Japanese release in 1997 as a movie Hitchcock could have made, Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a deliriously impressive,
albeit sometimes overblown, animation. Telling the freaky tale of a cute-as-a-button, B-list pop singer named Nima, Blue immediately breaks out of character, with Nima interrupting a concert to announce she’s decided to pursue a career as a serious actress. Her choice has a downbeat ring that sets the tone for the film: her agents bicker, the invasive fans behind an encyclopedic Nima Web site howl, and our hopeful heroine retreats to a tiny, teddy bearstrewn apartment to prepare for her big break— one line in a sleazy television drama.
Nima’s on a slow train to nowhere until the show’s producers decide her goodie-two-shoes pop-idol profile would make her the perfect (i.e., unlikely) candidate to play the series’ resident rape victim and revenge-murder suspect. Ratings skyrocket, but soon the various men who engineered her makeover start turning up dead. Besides the corpses, Nima’s rise is complicated by her own fear that she’s sold herself out. She starts getting creepy visits from what may or may not be herself— Old Nima done up in the abandoned schoolgirl-idol drag, giggling maniacally that New Nima is dirty and tarnished and nasty.
Blue puts some predictably sketchy gender politics in play, and its climax is luridly hysterical, overloaded with dream sequences and Nima’s “Am I crazy?” freak-outs. Still, the film is tawdrily insightful in the way it uses the hot lights of the entertainment industry to illuminate anime’s peculiar duality as the mirror of both wholesome and not-so-wholesome fantasy, and this with nary a tentacled demon-dick in sight.
Hailing from a completely different point on the global and generic maps, Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen’s earnest, forthright doc On the Ropes is also an industry cautionary tale, focusing on the trials of a group of amateur boxers and trainers from the Bed-Stuy gym that produced Riddick Bowe.
Ropes begins with the solid presence of Harry Keitt, who has trained fighters out of a storefront gym for 16 years. Harry’s charges give him reasons for hope and despair in equal measure: George, a smiling potential champion, flirts with a big-name manager’s promises of fame and fortune. The teenaged Noel finally decides to try his best only to find he can’t quite overcome his limitations as a boxer. Most heartbreaking is Tyrene, who trains with heroic drive despite having what seems to be a bogus drug charge hanging over her head. Except for the intrusion of a limply de rigueur hip-hop soundtrack, Burstein and Morgen take all this in from an unobtrusive middle distance, letting the subjects themselves slowly complicate the profusion of athletic and ghetto-real clichés that fly scattershot in the early going. Harry shouts familiar platitudes about hard work and dedication but throughout exudes the distracted nervousness of a man trying hard not to remember past disappointments. He provides On the Ropes with its main visual motif and enduring emotional note anyway: win or lose, Harry still gets up early every day to lift the gym’s metal gates, hopeful that a champion will be walking in soon.