(1997) Directed by Satoshi Kon; Written by Sadayuki Murai; Based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis, by Yoshikazu Takeuchi; Starring: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji and Masaaki Ôkura; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“I don’t think that it’s too confusing or difficult to understand. Actually, we originally planned to make it easier for the audience to understand what was going on, and then we decided to keep them guessing a little, to draw their own conclusions using their own imaginations. In the end, I think we were right in keeping the audience guessing and leaving them to use their imaginations rather than spelling everything out for them.” – Satoshi Kon
“But maybe she is more like me than myself. My other self that I buried deep within my heart. What if that other personality suddenly started acting on its own?” – Mima Kirigoe (Junko Iwao)
Note: This is an expanded version of a capsule review from August, 2018.
Although Satoshi Kon’s career was cut tragically short, he left behind a body of work that inscribed an indelible mark on the anime world. His films engaged the brain as well as the eyes, with characters that appeared fully fleshed out, and stories that frequently questioned reality. His debut feature, Perfect Blue, is no exception, with its mind-bending exploration of the dark side of fame and the perils of living under the constant scrutiny of the public eye.
In the opening scene, we’re introduced to Mimarin “Mima” Kirigoe, part of the pop trio, CHAM. It’s Mima’s final concert before she embarks on her acting career, joining the cast of a popular psychological crime drama Double Bind. As we soon learn, it’s not so easy to leave her pop idol past behind. Her recent career decisions, including a revealing magazine photo spread, don’t sit well with some of her more ardent fans, as well as her skeptical agent, Rumi. The line between the fictional world of her television show and real life blurs when people involved with the production end up brutally murdered, and her life begins to spiral out of control.
Perfect Blue plays with the theme of identity, particularly the persona fabricated by fans versus the real person. The notion that Mima could stray from her wholesome stage persona is too much for one obsessive fan to bear. At first, she’s flattered to learn about “Mima’s Room,” a website devoted to her. Things get creepy in a hurry, however, when she finds whoever is responsible for the site seems to know more about Mima than she knows about herself. She discovers the minutiae of her daily life chronicled in detail, from her thoughts about a recent flubbed performance, to which foot she uses first to step off a commuter train, or what’s her favorite brand of milk. The superfan, Me-Mania, the mastermind behind “Mima’s Room,” takes it upon himself to manufacture her online identity. He views her post-CHAM work as tarnished, endeavoring to preserve an idealized, virginal image. It’s interesting to note that he’s depicted as a socially awkward individual with pronounced facial deformities, implying that these aspects contribute to his antisocial activities. In light of his actions, however, his physical appearance seems to be an unnecessary exaggeration. On the other hand, his appearance serves to deceive the audience about the extent to which he’s impacted Mima, or how far he would go to maintain an illusion. Satoshi Kon plays coy with the degree that Me-Mania intrudes on Mima’s life outside the online world, leading us to speculate if he could also be behind the killings.
A common thread in Perfect Blue (and much of Satoshi Kon’s work) is the ambiguity of the characters. As we’re puzzling over who’s doing what, we encounter some red herrings to keep us off the trail. Instead of being in control of her own destiny, Mima is a pawn in a larger game, with someone else manipulating the events in her life. But her unstable actions are just enough to consider the possibility that she’s suffered a mental schism, and split into two different Mimas, shifting between someone who’s non-threatening and one who could plausibly be complicit in the murders. Her character’s line from the show, “Who are you?” becomes two-fold, reflecting the ambivalence of her TV show character, but also one of personal identity. Are we truly seeing what we’re seeing, or is it a manufactured reality created by Mima’s brain? As a manifestation of her inner struggles, she’s taunted by another Mima, an idealized version of herself, locked in time from her pop idol days. As the new Mima attempts to break free of the bonds of her former self, she’s trapped in a perpetual cycle of doubt and self-loathing.
The other key player in this drama is Mima’s agent, Rumi. Much like Me-Mania, it’s questionable whether she has her client’s best interests in mind. As a former pop idol herself, she identifies with Mima’s struggles, but secretly envies Mima’s efforts to go beyond CHAM. She’s personally invested in ensuring Mima isn’t exploited, going head-to-head with the show’s producer about her character in the show. Against her wishes, Mima agrees to do a scene in which her character is raped in a strip bar. When shooting commences, it almost seems worse for Rumi, watching the violent scene unfold on a studio monitor.
Perfect Blue underscores the unrealistic expectations for people thrust in the public eye. Celebrities are expected to stay in their lane with regard to their artistic endeavors, adhering to the specific expectations (no matter how realistic or unrealistic) of fans. If they stray too far, they suffer the consequences. Perfect Blue will continue to enthrall and challenge viewers for many years to come, inviting repeat viewings. While it might be somewhat easier to piece the events together, Mima’s distorted perceptions of reality keep an air of ambiguity about the story, and we can walk away with a slightly different interpretation every time.