It's been five years since Satoshi Kon caused us to sit bold upright in our seats with the weird yet wonderful Perfect Blue, a bizarre and bloody tale of a former teen-idol turned actress plagued by a psychotic stalker and plunged into a world in which the delineation between fantasy and reality rapidly becomes blurred to the point of incoherence. Those, like myself, who at the time pondered upon the reasoning behind rendering such a work as an animation are going to be doubly perplexed by the recent decision to remake it as a live action feature - until, that is, they realise that this newest is not so much a remake, nor even a re-imagining, as a case of going right back to the original novel, written by Yoshikaze Takeuchi, which formed the starting point for Kon's stunning feature debut.
As directed by Toshiki Sato, one of the much-vaunted Four Kings (Shitenno) of the Pink film - the others being Hisayasu Sato (Naked Blood, The Bedroom), Kazuhiro Sano and probably the best known of the quartet, Takahisa Zeze (No Man's Land, Dogstar, Tokyo X Erotica) - who resolutely hammered away throughout the 90s against the prevailing climate of straight-to-video sleaze with a drove of large-screen erotic features which have been widely praised for attempting to deliver a degree of artistry and social comment amongst the acres of bare flesh - you'd be hard pushed to detect much in the way of common elements between the two films, in terms of either content or style. I think it's fair to say that those expecting Perfect Blue: Take 2 are going to be mightily disappointed with this new version.
Kon has stated in a number of interviews that his original film was made with little in the way of recourse to the original source material, which he has claimed never to have read, the script having been radically reworked by himself and writer Sadayuki Murai to include such elements as the Double Bind film-within-a-film sequences, the jarring narrative shifts (which seem to have proven the make or break point with most viewers), and a host of shockingly graphic murder sequences, whilst considerable downplaying the role of the stalker character, Uchiki, whom Kon considered "uninteresting".
It's an aspect which Sato's film, scripted by Masahiro Kobayashi, might have done well to consider. If indeed the central premise of Takeuchi's book, which like Kon I have to confess to not having read, is indeed the distorted image that both idol and fan have, not only of themselves but of each other, then in attempting to foreground the psychological relationship between Maeda's teeny pop cutie Ai (named Mima in Kon's version) and the morose convenience store clerk who gazes dreamily from behind the counter at her image on a poster advertising Calpis (a wasted Omori, seen to far better effect in Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer last year), whilst opting along a prosaically linear narrative trajectory, Yume Nara Samete not only fails to achieve any insight into its two main characters, it also makes their simultaneous descent into narcissistic self-delusion (triggered by Mima's staged rape and the backdrop of bloody killings seen in Kon's film), seem off pat and assumed from the very outset. As for the third character, whose crucial function in the plot will already be known to those familiar with the earlier film, his/her role in this film is so spare that there is little of the "whodunnit" suspense that drove Kon's film along at such a pace, because up until the final reel, so very little has actually happened.
It's true, Kon may have taken some flagrant liberties with the original story, but if so, it was done so out of the realisation that intriguing though the premise may be, working Takeuchi's novel as a live-action exercise was always going to prove a minefield. Not only did the use of animation in the original allow the director such a tenacious degree of control over the alternating subjective realities of its main characters, it also permitted an opening up in scale which Sato and crew, working on a noticeable taut budget, cannot hope to match. Whilst Mima is introduced to an arena of baying fans in the original film, Ai's idol status is evoked by lengthy sessions in the recording studio, crooning the theme song of the film's title (performed by the real-life group Paradise Garage) in its entirety no less than three times, or being ferried around in the isolated bubble of her manager's Volvo. There's little impression of a broader outside world beyond the limiting vacuum of the characters' day-to-day existence - certainly little to inspire the hallucinatory fantasies of its central pivot.
Sato's work in erotic cinema, typified by titles like Danchi Tsuma Kairaku Zukan - Sannin No Sei Kurabe (trans: Tenement Wife Pleasure Picture Book - 3 Person Sex Contest, 1997), has been praised for its ability to invoke the hollowness and lack of real connection at the heart of modern living, shoehorning social critique into the format of the sex film potboiler, and has attracted the work of both scholars and festival programmers in a number of different territories stretching from Rotterdam via Udine to Hong Kong.
Like his three Kings of Pink associates, he has recently made increasingly frequent forays into mainstream. His use of the detached long, single shot approach to isolate his characters within the frame, as opposed to personalising them through use of close up or break up of picture space, places him firmly within the same stylistic school as contemporary Japanese directors such as Shinji Aoyama, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and of course Takahisa Zeze, and indeed, with Yume Nara Samete he seems to be trying to stress the same themes of social alienation and mental fragmentation that play so large a role in the work of these directors. However, whereas Kon's film preoccupies itself with invoking its world through a startling array of images and narrative devices to identify the viewer with the inner state of its beleaguered heroine, a young girl lost to the machinations of the idol machine, Sato seems to have a broader concept which he hasn't yet developed the filmic vocabulary to articulate within a commercial feature format.
Whilst I dare say Sato is aiming for a completely different effect to Kon, there's a certain dramatic weakness at play here, heightened by some indifferent acting (only the ubiquitous bald-headed bit player, Taro Suwa, in the role of the convenience store owner really sets the screen alight), and a clear lack of direction in where the plot is heading. It's true, some of the individual shots are striking (the cinematographer certainly knows how to light a fish tank), but the majority seem merely to serve to pad out the film to feature length. Let's face it, for the most part Yume Nara Samete is downright boring.
In the end analysis, it almost seems perverse that a cartoon treatment of the same source material should not only contain a great deal more tit and ass than the sex film director's (with nary a bare breast in sight, for those wondering), but also prove to be more cinematic, dramatic and emotionally charged.