It seems like I have failed in keeping everything going up on time, midterms easily saw to that. I wasn’t able to get everything down prior, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to throw out the last two days! It just means I need to fit them in no matter how late they will be.
Satoshi Kon is a name many as anime fans know and love. We seem to have followed the term auteur and I have been throwing this term around a lot during this marathon. I can tell you with all certainty…when you have seen a Satoshi Kon film you can certainly recognize it. Sadly the man has passed away in 2010 at the age of 46 and the anime world has lost one of its best creators. Many western films have been inspired by the works of Kon such as Inception with the film Paprika. As well as the film I will be talking about today had inspired Black Swan and a scene from Requiem for a Dream. It is hard to deny the impact of Perfect Blue on director Darren Aronofsky’s work, yet Kon himself focuses at times on a more disorienting viewpoint in his film. Perfect Blue is one of the few directed titles from Kon, to which many (myself included) wanted to see more from, that helped to cement his name in the anime industry. Yet with all its visual theatrics does it still stand up today?
Mima Kirigoe is making that transition in her life from the idol scene and towards becoming an actress. Yet over the course of that transition things start to blur together. Her identity and even her status of “celebrity” is often twisting and turning as she slowly loses her grasp on reality. That is essentially the basis of the film, but while it may say like another average film on paper, Satoshi Kon milks this premise with some fantastic visual misdirection and constantly forces you to ask various questions about the industry as a whole and how dark Kon’s view of it is in some aspects. Perfect Blue is all about Mima’s discovering who she is as an individual in the studio system, and at times the film shows you some harsh truths. The execution of the story as a whole can get jumbled for some when originally watching it as often the film will attempt to play with not only Mima’s sense of reality, but the viewer’s own perception of what is actually transpiring taking us down a rabbit hole that can be quite terrifying when looking at it in context. The style of the editing and shot composition at times does make the narrative hard to ultimately follow, and that does make it harder to watch if you don’t know about the mind trips Kon can create with his visuals.
Mima as a character is truly fascinating, especially when you enter into the darker side of her psyche. Once she sees this website called “Mima’s Room”, her world slowly begins to tumble down as she understands that she has someone stalking her every move. We see Mima go from the upbeat pop singer, into the more tortured actress unable to distinguish reality from fiction, and at times this is truly a dark spiral and a relatable idea. We see Mima struggle in the most human way possible, putting on a mask to hide that pain even if at times her agents can no longer take what they put her through. You watch a girl who wants to make it as an actress and change herself, yet you find yourself wondering if this change was ultimately a good thing. Watching days go by unable to recollect them, falling into a deep depression (which I would have loved for Kon to have gone deeper into), having to fear if you are being watched, Mima has all of these problems and seeing those honest and human reactions to these scenarios is at times heartbreaking. There is this naivety to her that allows her to be swept up into this situation, and then of course we see the various shades of Mima over the course of losing herself.
Perfect Blue is a seminal work in the career of Kon as a director, and helps to showcase an opinion on celebrity, elements of the acting industry as a whole, and quite possibly the obsessive nature of some of its fans. Let’s be blunt about the caricature of the Me-Mania out of the way, yes it is a scary depiction of a fanbase too obsessed with its material. It isn’t too far away from potentially this being a very realistic event of how creepily obsessed he is with the “real” Mima. Especially when you see his view of her in the concert, how he is looking up at her with his hand underneath. That shot alone is what got me a bit scared of this guy, and as much as this is ultimately a caricature of an obsessive fan he is just as much a criticism on our celebrity culture and how obsessed we are over the littlest facts at times. “Oh Daniel Craig can’t be blonde and Bond. That is a travesty! Did you hear about how this couple split up? Oh how scandalous!” This is a critique on pop culture and its fans and I think it is not one without merit in its ideas. We as a society obsess over small details that don’t matter.
I would say discussing the industry and some of the crap it puts its young stars through is a darker look in Perfect Blue than I would say Me-Mania is. Perfect Blue has one rape scene filmed on the set that Mima is on, and it is quite traumatic to watch to say the least. Kon didn’t hold back on his criticism of how sometimes big time industry names will potentially force young actors/actresses into situations they just have no say in if they still want a career. Albeit this is a slightly darker edge with its obvious malicious intent in the way in which it is portrayed in the film. As much as you want to say “this surely can’t be happening” it very easily could. There is always this voice in the back of your head when you see such harsh critiques of the entertainment medium as a whole, that there is still no matter what a shred of truth behind these matters. Such is the industry and I think Kon critiques it in a while albeit darker tone than I think was needed. He does give a lot of thought about the industry and the idea of the desire to ultimately be known as a “celebrity”.
I put this as a psychological horror for its very realistic themes that attack certain aspects of celebrity in macabre way. Perfect Blue will not sugar coat its material, Kon has this ability to make almost every shot feel important in a way. Every character doesn’t move without a motivation for it, and a lot of the characters that we focus on have some dimension to them as individuals (with the exception of Me-Mania of course). There is something haunting about this psychological horror in a way not many films can portray, and that is a sense of desire to understand the human behind the madness. Mima is a character that never loses your focus throughout the entirety of the film, especially in its darker moments. You always desire to see more of her and in a way that also ties into the themes of obsession and pop culture. We are the audience who is peaking into her life, we are the ones seeing her at her lowest and we kind of get an excitement from it since of course this is meant to be digested as entertainment first and foremost. Some shots beautifully exemplify that, when Mima looks outside her window afraid if someone is watching and all we see is empty city tops. Is this paranoia, or a very clever way of showcasing that the audience is always watching Mima and she has a right to be paranoid?
The musical score is something I just can’t gloss over though, as it perfectly adapts and helps to create the tone of the film just as much as the visuals. Masahiro Ikumi has this way of delving into brain and forcing you to tick a certain way with his eerie composition for this film. The build up of the paranoia and madness coalesces beautifully with its score to the point of where I would say this film as a whole could be classified as a unique experience especially in the world of animated films. Perfect Blue is a fun psychological thriller/horror and it’s interesting to theorize the inner machinations of the film within. Kon is truly an artist with his ideas and how he portrays them on screen. His style is at times disorienting and quite hard to grab onto, and that won’t always make them the most accessible films. Yet if you can buy into its entrancing style of storytelling, then you are in for something truly magical. It takes the viewer along with Mima on this trip of her losing a sense of identity as an individual, and we revel in the journey she takes in order to understand who she wants to be as a person. I haven’t watched all of Kon’s works, but after watching Perfect Blue I can say without question that I am a fan. Perfect Blue is completely entrancing in its complex and disorienting narrative that discusses celebrity in a very sobering view.
Millenium Actress (2001) – A blind recommendation, but it is probably the only other film in his repertoire that discusses celebrity and film. I was meaning to watch this one recently as well, but never got around to it. They are quite expensive films you know, but to those brave enough to search it out this is the film that garnered general acclaim for Kon’s work in the west. I’m almost certain that if you enjoyed Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress should not be far off even if its execution and ideas can be different.
Black Swan (2010) – One could call Black Swan a remake of Perfect Blue, especially with how close some of its ideas and its execution is. Of course much like every good remake, it takes the original in a different direction and through a different execution that feels like an entirely different film by the end as a result. Natalie Portman is brilliant as the lead, and certainly captivates us throughout the film’s psychological pirouettes.
I’m really glad that I was able to talk about Perfect Blue in this marathon, always nice to rewatch one of my favourites. It is nice to get good surprises ever once in a while, yet I can say it is much more reassuring to watch a film you already know you enjoy. Have you ever watched a Satoshi Kon film? Please put your thoughts in the comments below and have yourself a great day!