Perfect Blue – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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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 television series titled Double Bind, 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 discover Internet sites describing every intimate detail of her life. Helpless and afraid, she watches as a mysterious stalker threatens her associates.

Loosely based on the 1991 debut novel entitled Perfect Blue: Kanzen Hentai (Perfect Blue: Total Pervert) by author Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Satoshi Kon’s directorial debut Perfect Blue is a vivid look into the conflicting nature of the self—looking at both the personal and public persona an individual adapts too. Never one to shy from exploring aspects of society within his works, Kon plays out this psychological dilemma amidst the backdrop of pop idolatry in Japan, a facet of its society that has garnered much controversy for its public image and immoral incentive. The juxtaposition between the entertainment lifestyle with that of a normal one is a highlighted element within the film, questioning the fragile divide that exists between the two. Furthermore, it’s a film that ultimately brings forth the obscure realm of reality and fantasy within an industry that strictly focuses on the latter to become successful. Often times this illusion steadily drifts into the world of fandom as well, where some individuals slowly become consumed within a world of fantasy, unable to distinguish it from reality.

The basic construct of the film is simply a take on the Japanese entertainment industry and its often time’s questionable handling of young stars. The manufacturing of the idol had been a longstanding position within the Japanese entertainment industry since the 1970’s, with an abundance of idols covering that of the music, magazine, and cinema scene. Perfect Blue as an animated film presents something quite unlike anything offered up until this time—that of a uniquely adult-centered story that didn’t include many of the elements often associated with Japanese animation. Robots, aliens, swordplay—these are all strangely absent from the film, and in an industry where cliché’ is considered the norm, this presents a bold step in creativity. Rather the film tackles realistic themes as well as characters, free from many of the previous restraints of what animation could attain as a visual art form. The film’s stark look into various themes is very reminiscent to our present-day society, and the psychological conflicts that arise from them are just as real. Kon’s focus on Mima—a young idol singer who is greatly absorbed in the industry that she resides in—constantly questions herself as to who she truly is. Saturated with that of the media imagery she is to adhere too, Kon questions the very notion of identity amidst an industry that requires one to excessively change theirs in order to fit the manufactured trend. It should come at no surprise then that he delegates a majority of the film towards looking at the industry as well as its effects on the various people contributing to it.

This is where Perfect Blue works fantastically well on two fronts. While the first half of the film plays out as a well-crafted thriller concerning a deadly stalker of Mima’s and the more literal concern for her newfound acting career, the second half of film drastically differs from this established narrative. This portion of the film presents the psychological deconstruction of Mima as an individual, and where Kon’s expertise at constructing creative character analyses truly shines. Blurring the line between the real world and the fictional one established by her television role, the film enters Mima’s steady descent into questioning that of her own identity—and because of the realism established by film’s atmosphere, the audience seemingly shares the same descent as well. Visually, the film adheres to showcasing images of Mima against the backdrop of mirrors and subway train windows—always bringing back the dilemma of identity that Mima is facing. Time and perception also become extremely crucial elements during this period, with Kon playing tricks on both the audience and apparently Mima herself. Who is she truly as an individual? What does her role as an entertainer subscribe too? Is the choices she makes really her own? These are all questions that confront both the audience and Mima as they jointly ravage through the psychological landscape brought to fruition by Kon.

More importantly, I believe Kon is also attempting to question the very system in which Mima finds herself within. Offering a look into the anxieties and pressures of an industry that relies so heavily on the constructed image, Perfect Blue certainly doesn’t remove itself from the realm of realism. This element is what secures the film as an important examination—almost satirical in its confrontation—of an element within the entertainment sphere that warrants the detachment of one’s identity in order create a new one. Completely overcome by the very system that made her partly famous in the first place, Mima is but an instrument in showcasing an industry that heavily transforms one’s image to correlate with that of the popular trend, but also showcases the severe psychological punishment recieved if they stray away from it. The domain of fantasy is therein brought into examination as a destructive force in which the individual can’t truly control, hence Mima’s perplexed and indecisive state of mind. When Mima recites her line “excuse me, who are you?” from her television role, it becomes eerily reflective of her current state of uncertainty within reality. In a lifestyle that pertains to idolizing one’s image, where does the actual genuine person truly exist?

These are elements that contribute towards Perfect Blue being much more than simply a film revolving around a suspected stalker. A testament of the Japanese entertainment industry and its various fallacies, the film more importantly provides a meticulous look into what constitutes the idol image and its domination of identity. This trait of realism showcased in Perfect Blue would be further realized within Kon’s future works, but the film expertly tells an adult story concerning a topic not previously explored to such a degree within Japanese animation. Aspects of bizarre fan devotion, transitioning stardom, and industry politics all contribute towards positioning the film as a realistic portrayal of what it means to be a star within the entertainment field. This rearranging of the conventional by Kon provided the necessary treatment to promote the medium of animation further, effectively raising the standards of what can be offered by Japanese animation—and more importantly that of animation in general. The intertwining narrative yields to creating an exceptional thriller, where reality and the delusional become one and the same. Frightening in its portrayal of a dangerous industry and personal image, the film doesn’t shy away from showing the tumultuous nature of the entertainment world. These elements all culminate into making Kon’s Perfect Blue a remarkable debut—and most certainly one of the director’s most critical contributions to the world of animation.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Jon Turner

    How unfortunate it is that Satoshi Kon is not with us anymore! This was the first film of his I saw, and it really had me gripped; I don’t remember the last time I ever saw such a nightmarish tale, but it was done so well it had me nailed to my seat. In fact, it also serves as a lesson of how popular actors or any artists need to be treated with respect, and not as obsessive objects of admiration or disdain by fans. I learned that lesson not too long ago from being in a couple of plays myself.

  • Miguel Douglas

    Yes, it is very sad indeed. The legacy he left behind through his films will certainly live on though, and we can always watch to remind us of his contributions towards elevated the medium.