(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because as regular readers know, I'm using the excuse of Netflix's rapidly growing amount of digitized "instant anime" to finally school myself on the subject, after knowing barely anything about it before January of this year, so am going through a ton of not only new projects these days but older classics as well. (For example, on top of all the anime movies I've reviewed already, I'm also in various stages of getting through the classic Japanese television series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Gankutsuou, and Gun Sword, with reviews of them all coming later this year.) Because this 1997 classic happens to be directed by Satoshi Kon, known within anime circles as "the weird one" (and this from an industry that doesn't blink at space-alien octopus rape), director of the more recent festival sensation Paprika which I've also reviewed here in the past, and I loved that one so why wouldn't I love this one too?
The reality: Great for what it is, but that simply gets overshadowed now by the much more successful presentation of the same ideas which is his 2006 Paprika. See, the reason Satoshi is known as the odd one even within such strange circles (and what frankly makes him such a big hit among the international festival crowd, who usually avoid anime like the plague) is that he never takes on the usual anime tropes -- you know, sexy killer naked teenage girls, a future MegaTokyo that's been destroyed and rebuilt seven or eight times, guns and blood and guns and mayhem and boobies and guns and robots -- but rather like an indie American comics author uses the medium to tell odd Dan-Clowes Eightball-style character-based tales about identity, madness, the question of whether brains and computers really are the same thing, and all kinds of other unsettling questions that lurk among the geek fringe of mainstream society. It's anime for extra-smart people who don't usually like anime, kinda like how David Cronenberg is for horror films, or William Gibson among many for science-fiction novels.
In this case, it's the story of an Asian Miley Cyrus type, back in the late '90s when the Japanese economy first started falling apart; a pubescent pop sensation now entering her late teens, who's yearning to stretch her wings while also acknowledging that she needs to start "positioning" herself into more adult roles if she wants to hold on to a career. That gets her a recurring role on an adult soap opera, where the slacker head-writer thinks it would be a darkly funny hoot to have her character raped on-camera, after first putting her through a bottoming-out that sees her turn into a drug-addicted stripper (including a scene for the show of her pole-dancing while barely dressed). To the surprise of everyone, the young actress ("Mima") readily agrees to it all, much to the consternation of many (including her staff, her most obsessed fans, and more); but soon after hitting the air, a mysterious stranger starts murdering the people responsible for this latest show development, one at a time around the city in grisly ways. Is Mima secretly responsible, during a series of dissociative-identity blackouts that Satoshi portrays onscreen in inventively dreamlike ways? Or is it actually one of the many suspects that lurk around every corner, purposely trying to drive Mima crazy for "becoming someone else?" Like I said, great for '97, but the '06 Paprika tackles many of the same issues, in a much more complex and masterful way that simply reflects Satoshi being a decade older, wiser, and better a filmmaker. While it's a definite requirement for those wanting to understand the history of anime, it can be safely substituted with Paprika instead for those simply wanting to see an example of Satoshi at the top of his form.
Strangest piece of trivia: This was originally to be a live-action movie; but after an earthquake did major damage to the production studio sponsoring it, its budget was by necessity dropped to "animation-sized." Ironically, one of the biggest complaints after the movie came out was of why this wasn't done as a live-action film.
If I had watched it when it first came out: Actually, I think I did! I remember being dragged to some midnight anime once in the late '90s while wasted on a Saturday night and falling asleep halfway through; I think this was the movie I was dragged to.
Worth your time? If you're a Satoshi Kon completist, then yes. Otherwise, just watch Paprika instead.