It’s hard to find the words to describe Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, but I shall do my best to describe it. Perfect Blue is an animated film that is far more disturbing than many of the live action psychological thrillers that I have come across in my time. The film deals with the issues of fandom, fame, reality, and most importantly deals with the theme of depression. The clue is in the title, blue has always been associated with the colour of melancholia, of sadness, and depression. With brutal violent scenes depicted in vivid reds and a warped ‘rape’ scene; this is an animated film that the faint of heart should avoid. The film has gone onto to inspire many filmmakers, including Darren Aronofsky and his film Black Swan.
The film depicts the nightmarish downfall of Mima, a chart-topping idol who leaves J-pop trio CHAM! to pursue an acting career, which upsets an extremely dedicated fan who can’t seem to separate Mima from her pop persona. When she accepts a part in a controversial crime drama with a rape scene, her life begins to spiral out of control. A stalker site entitled “Mima’s Room” begins documenting her every move, a mysterious doppelgänger torments her with increased frequency and many colleagues turn up dead in mysterious circumstances. We experience Mima’s descent into madness from her highly unreliable point of view, as we question where reality ends and delusions begin, the use of the non-linear narrative is very effective in creating a sense of confusion and alienation.
There are a number of very adult and mature themes running throughout Perfect Blue, which will leave the viewer uncomfortable, awkward and disturbed. Perhaps the most horrifying moment comes during a ‘fictional’ rape scene which Mima is forced into doing in order to further her acting career. Mima is an unexperienced actress, who is far too naive and willing to participate in the scene, reflecting on how many young starlets are often faced with these scenarios. Even though what we are witnessing is animated, we still connect with Mima and empathise with what she is having to endure. In fact, the scene feels more disturbing because it is animation which is usually a genre we associate with children films.
We see that after filming this scene Mima is pushed further over the edge and heightens her disconnection from reality. This is depicted almost literally, her head is hanging over the stage thrown back, and ready to fall. The scene itself is jarring, with fast cuts, and a disjointed, brilliant soundtrack. It allows us as the audience to feel what Mima must be experiencing: the crippling anxiety, the sheer horror, and the utter despair. We are trapped in a claustrophobic living nightmare, with no obvious way out. We know it’s not real, but our perception of reality has been teased, and manipulated throughout the course of the film that we almost anticipate this scene being revealed as an actual violation.
It’s these simple, yet effective scenes that make Satoshi Kon’s work so fascinating. A scene is almost replicated later in the movie when Mima is assaulted. This time, out of the relatively ‘safe’ confines of filmmaking. However, at this point, Mima is a changed person, she has adapted and become a fighter. The film’s success lies in its main character who despite being animated is a strong complex individual who is more developed, and three-dimensional compared to many of the female roles depicted in mainstream Hollywood cinema.
Another reason why Perfect Blue is a masterpiece is its narrative, which deals with the issue of mental illness. We witness the depiction of illnesses such as depression, personality disorder and schizophrenia being at the forefront of the drama. Perfect Blue also explores the theme of identity and crisis. Who is Mima? Who is Mima without SHAM, and without being an idol? interestingly, the character that Mima is playing in her acting debut has multiple-personality disorder, and is convinced that she’s really Mima and that Mima actually doesn’t exist (yes, this sounds complicated and confusing, but it’s best to watch it for yourself to fully understand what I mean by that).
It is also worth mentioning that Perfect Blue was revolutionary in discussing the threat of the online stalker, and the danger of remaining anonymous on the internet. In the film, Mima discovers her ‘fan page,’ which is in actual fact as diary of her life in intricate detail. We never fully know wo set up the fan page, it could even be Mima herself during a manic episode. The online diary wonderfully illustrates how dangerous the internet can be, and all this was back in the mid 90s, director Satoshi Kon’s warning to us all of what was inevitably going to occur, perhaps?
Fast forward to 2018, and the idea of an online persona is very pertinent in today’s climate and social structures. The internet is crucial to our very existence; it is our way to see the world, and have the world see us. In fact our online self is a fictional, manufactured character, which is no different to Mima’s J-pop Idol image. individuals can become ‘celebrities’ through the use of YouTube and Instagram, simply by detailing eery aspect of their lives, but of course how much of this depiction is real? Nowadays, we can hide behind the safety and security of a screen, whilst wreaking havoc on social media platforms and in forums, never being fully held responsible for our actions. I struggle to name any recent films which have addressed this issue in such a such an effective way.
Perfect Blue is a perfect example of how animation can be used in a way to capture surrealism, and create an ‘impossible’ world which wouldn’t necessarily be achievable with live action. Despite being animated, it is a mature film, made by adults for adults, dealing with controversial topics that children will be unable to process. It’s a deeply disturbing film, which won’t appeal to many, but it is an experience like no other. As I mentioned at the start, it is difficult to find the words to describe Perfect Blue, but I hope I have managed to convey why I feel it is a must-see. Please don’t be quick to dismiss it because it is an ‘anime’ and step out of your comfort zone, because Perfect Blue is a perfect film, in more ways than one.