Mima Kirigoe’s agency has a dilemma. Her idol group, Cham, is struggling to make sales despite having a small but loyal fan-base. Their manager has his sights set on the acting world and offers Mima a choice: to stay singing, or become an actress.
She leaves the group, and lands a role in a TV drama, but not everything is what it seems. She’s pushed to do more challenging and controversial scenes, leading to her character being raped onscreen. As the script for the drama gets darker and darker, life begins to imitate art. The line between reality and fiction becomes blurred, and Mima struggles to determine what’s real and what’s just on television. Her paranoia is made worse by a new website surfacing, which follows her every move and pretends to be the ‘real’ Mima. Then, the people around her start dying.
This film definitely shows its age in places, despite being under twenty years old. The massive leaps in technological advancement in the last two decades are bound to make anything made before that seem older than it is, but sometimes that’s part of the charm. In Evangelion, Shinji’s cassette player became so iconic that it was kept in the reboot, even if they’re pretty much obsolete today. In Perfect Blue, it has the nostalgia factor of first discovering the internet. But today, computers are so commonplace and the internet is accessible anywhere thanks to smartphones. Because of that, it seems foreign and unfamiliar to not know how to use them. Including current technology in any series always runs that risk.
Even if it is slightly dated in places, this film is still relevant in terms of the idol culture found in East Asia. Mima, a girl who moved to Tokyo to pursue a singing career, ended up going into a career path she never wanted purely so her management could make money. The main focus is on profit, instead of what Mima wants. She shows how uncomfortable she is with the more risqué scenes and photoshoots, feeling way out of her comfort zone. But she is expected to follow through, because her management has called for complete image change. It exposes the risks of becoming an idol, of the stalkers and super-fans who can feel entitled to her life as if she belongs to them. Perfect Blue personifies stalkers as one man, Mr. Me-Mania, who is so obsessed with ‘Mimarin’ that he believes he is the chosen one to protect her honour. Scandal is forbidden in the idol world, and despite breaking away from singing, she’s still tied to her management. Recently, singer Park Bom from the K-Pop band 2NE1 just returned from an enforced two year hiatus after a scandal, so the whole idea of idols not being able to make mistakes is still extremely relevant. And Mima definitely takes a few wrong turns, including doing a naked photoshoot because she felt pressured to.
This whole film raises questions of how much control she actually has over herself. Where was the point where she signed away all power of her own body? Was it when she started the drama, or earlier on, when she joined the management agency? When she leaves Cham, her fans start to turn on her, like she’s obligated to sing for them forever. When she starts acting, she’s made to feel as though she has to do whatever the script tells her to. The rape scene is a tipping point, where Mima realises just how little control she actually has and it’s this realisation which loosens her grip on reality. Before that scene, she’d convinced herself that she’d do anything that the director wanted, even reassuring the other actor after he’d apologised for what they were about to act. But afterwards, everything starts to unravel. In removing her control over her body, she loses control over her mind. While it’s likely that it wasn’t the original intention, this could even be considered as a commentary on writers deliberately throwing in scenes meant for shock value. Mima’s manager, Rumi, protests against the rape scene. But she is overruled and shut down by the others, caring more about the show’s ratings than Mima herself.
Perfect Blue is extremely reminiscent of Western films such as Fight Club and Mulholland Drive. Seeing as this was released first, it could be argued that it had influence in the making of later films, especially given that it was directed by the animation legend Satoshi Kon, who’s often cited as one of the greats alongside Miyazaki and Oshii. Fight Club shares the idea of dual personalities manifesting as different people, and Mulholland Drive has the same feeling of helplessness and unreality. Just like Ghost in the Shell had a profound effect on Western science fiction, Perfect Blue may just be the psychological horror equivalent. Darren Aronofsky, director of both Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, noted Kon’s influence in his work and having seen both movies, the similarities are definitely noticeable. This is especially true of Black Swan, where a young woman pushes herself to breaking point in order to become the performer she dreamed of being. Fight Club, Mulholland Drive and Requiem for a Dream were all released in the same time period, being released mere years after Perfect Blue. Despite anime often being dismissed as something childish in Western society, the influence it’s had on our screenwriting is undeniable.
This film falls firmly in the category of psychological thriller. As found in the most iconic anime of the late-80s to mid-90s, Perfect Blue has a definite sense of darkness. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion are two notable examples, not to mention Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. While not being part of the science fiction genre like the others, it still captures the bleak outlook which characterises the more famous anime of the era. From dystopias to depression, a lot of the anime which made the West sit up and take notice of the medium do share a hopeless view of society and how it will be in the future. This has become more noticeable in Western media during recent years, with many superhero movies being criticised for being too ‘grimdark’ – being edgy for the sake of being edgy. But the anime of two decades ago were definitely forerunners for pushing these limits. Perfect Blue’s use of repetition is a feature which creates a tense atmosphere, because recycling both the animation and the narrative feels like the film is going round in circles. This leaves the audience confused and replicates the inner turmoil that Mima is feeling.
Overall, this is a very ‘human’ film that shows just how messy life is. Perfect Blue is perfect in the way that it proves that it’s not. Every misguided decision and every influence from other people just emphasises the uncertainty that is a massive part of being human. This is especially true of celebrities, who aren’t allowed to be unsure or vulnerable. The pressure of resisting that takes its toll, and pairing that with all the other pressures of the job, it really shows the negative side of fame. It’s a film which demonstrates the danger of not having ownership over your own body, or even your own life – one which reveals the dark side of the idol lifestyle. This is still relevant today, with pop star Mayu Tomita being stabbed outside a concert last month. This is also a problem in Western society, as American singer Christina Grimmie was shot dead outside her concert only yesterday. Because these kind of incidents are still happening, Perfect Blue definitely still has a place in contemporary media.