The history of Japanese animated films is filled with familiar names. From the enduring popularity of Akira to the whimsical works of Hiyao Miyazaki, the genre is filled with masterpieces. Satoshi Kon is an influential director with many well regarded works to his name. His 1997 film Perfect Blue tells a poignant story that may be more relevant in 2018 than ever.
Perfect Blue tells the story of Mima Kirigoe who is a member of the Japanese idol group CHAM (for those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, think boy bands). Mima has decided that after two and a half years as an idol, she is ready to become an actress. Her decision is met with with a mixed reaction from her fans and those closest to her. Unfortunately, someone has become so upset they are willing to go to violent lengths to convince Mima to return to her idol roots.
Celebrity stalking is not a new thing in 2018. It was not unheard of when Perfect Blue was first released over two decades ago. What was new and has evolved to frightening levels is the use of the Internet. Access to the world’s biggest celebrities has never been easier and some fans have taken advantage of this approachability.
Perfect Blue is set during the early days of the World Wide Web. A fan page has been created for Mima filled with photos and a “diary” of her day that somehow knows everything about her life. Mima is understandably frightened and as the movie progresses the audience is let it on how much she is a part of her fans’ lives. A terrifying scene late in the movie shows one fan at his keyboard typing furiously away in a dark room filled with CHAM and Mima memorabilia. The fan page itself is filled with mostly negative messages about Mima’s career change. It is eerily similar to the online petitions and angry responses seen on the Internet from “fans” of long time franchises.
More than the ever growing presence of the Internet, Perfect Blue is about fandom and obsession. Mima’s Room (the online fan page) is just one example of the mania that surrounds the former idol. Fans follower her every move and constantly shove cameras in her face. Every career decision she makes is scrutinized by fans who become personally offended by choices they disagree with. It seems extreme, yet it adds a terrifying realism since we hear about every day.
While Perfect Blue is a commentary on extreme fanbases, it also explores the themes of self perception and identity. Kon does this by blurring the line between reality and fantasy and keeping the audience unsure as to whether what they are seeing is in the waking world or some twisted nightmare. This Lynchian style of direction builds the film’s tension while keeping the viewer uneasy. Even worse for the mystified audience, Mima herself begins to question reality. It is great work by Kon at creating an uneasy and confusing atmosphere that also engages the audience.
The soundtrack of Perfect Blue adds to the disconcerting tone. At times, the bubbly tunes of CHAM will bring a sense of optimism and hope. This will be followed by sudden moments of silence that which will be broken by loud bursts of heavy strings. The movie’ score plays with the audience’s natural auditory reactions, keeping them on edge the entire time. The animation looks good but its main function is to further the themes of the plot. Initially, Mima is drawn as innocent but as she becomes more involved in the film industry, her fans begin to see her as older. She becomes more sexualized in order to become more appealing to her new demographic. However, this never looks erotic and almost looks tawdry and cheap. Those who follow look at her with awe or disgust, but never as a person. There are some beautiful scenes in Perfect Blue, but its main focus is its story.
Perfect Blue is an uncomfortable watch. Fantasy and reality are appropriately hard to tell apart in a movie about how fans look at their favorite celebrities and how those stars see themselves. Perfect Blue is a must see movie that mirrors reality.