Perfect Blue

Looks like a healthy girl right?
"The color of illusion is Perfect Blue."

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Tagline! Today I decided I would take a break from psychologically disturbed movies soaked with violence and twisted sexual motifs, and talk about an animated movie that is... all of those things I just said. Written and directed by Satoshi Kon, who's final theatrical length work Paprika might be better known to my writers, Perfect Blue was released in 1998 and is about a J-pop idol named Mima who decides to become an actress. This seems to be going well until she is cast in a role that includes a rape scene (that she assents to despite some hesitation), and then spirals into psychological confusion and madness, while being stalked by a 'fan' calling themselves Me-Mania. To make matters worse, someone claiming to be Mima is keeping a detailed public journal of her life, leading Mima to question whether or not she is going coocoo batshit crazytown. This situation is complicated still further when everyone around her start dying grisly deaths, as the result of an unknown killer, possibly the aforementioned Me-Mania. While the primary plot's affinity for violence and sexualization might at first blush seem unrefined, the direction of the plot is nuanced and pointedly raises questions about certain aspects of Japanese pop-culture.

Yeah basically the movie is stuff like this.
At the center of the film the major theme is one of identity. The movie explores various facets of this idea, most importantly perhaps the nature of how we identify ourselves, and the danger posed by losing perspective on ourselves. Mima is a young woman who has a strong outward image, being a J-pop idol, but has a very tentative sense of personal identity that is at first swayed, and then shattered by the disturbing events happening around her, and about her. In fact I'd say it isn't much of a stretch to argue that Mima's outward idol persona is the whole problem (it certainly is literally as you will discover over the course of the movie). Because of the disconnect between Mima and the idol persona she is forced to portray, her fans become disappointed, and in some cases angry because of her shift in careers. This is a common issue with any famous people, but seems especially exaggerated with the canned idols of Japanese pop-culture, and the (mostly male) otaku who obsess over them. The idea that Mima will no longer be pristine or pure because of her new career (and particular her being in a role where her character is raped) enrages at least one fan enough to start murdering people in her 'defense'.

That's not make-up c'mon, ew!
There is a fine spectrum of crazy present in Perfect Blue, and the confusion of the protagonist, through whose eyes we view the events of the movie, imparts on us the same sense of confusion, until finally things start to become clear. I enjoyed that a lot, and also always enjoy films where the viewer gets to see the dark side of human emotion, where affection turns to obsession, madness, and violence. There has been a comparison drawn between this film and Darren Aronofsky's 2010 film Black Swan, a movie I liked a lot less than Perfect Blue. While I acknowledge that there are some thematic similarities, I think the two movies are ultimately very different, and while Aronofsky has acknowledged the similarity as well, he claims that it was not an inspiration for his work (although Kon had written on his blog about meeting Aronofsky in 2001).

She's being a real baby about the whole murder thing.
The movie looks fantastic, and I have to say that I miss the quality of well done, hand drawn animation, as opposed to the homogeneous moe-blobs prevalent today (For other talk about sexy hand-drawn visuals, see Redline). The visuals match the plot in their brooding, sometimes surreal quality, that is at the same time suffused with horror. The film was adapted originally from a book of the same name, but Kon was unsatisfied with the original screenplay, and so requested being allowed to make drastic changes. Except for retaining the three core concepts of 'idol, horror and stalker" Kon was given free reign, resulting in the final movie.

Accurate depiction of an otaku.
While I sometimes go back and forth, I normally will say that Perfect Blue is my favorite of Satoshi Kon's works. It is grounded in reality while at the same time blurring the lines between reality and a dark fantasy that becomes destructive. Sadly Satoshi Kon died in 2010 from terminal pacreatic cancer. Today, members of the animation studio Madhouse are still trying to raise funding to complete Kon's final Dreaming Machine, that he was working on before his terminal diagnosis. Hopefully some day we will get to see it, and if you have the chance I can recommend any of his feature length films (and the 13 episode Paranoia Agent is excellent as well.

That's all for today! Join me again on Thursday, for further animated adventures! The next one will not be as dark I promise!

1 comment:

  1. I dig your review, being a big fan of the movie myself, however, there is one statement I don't agree with (I'm currently writing a paper about narrative in Perfect Blue):
    "[...] confusion of the protagonist, through whose eyes we view the events of the movie [...]"
    This is what in narration theory would be called "focalization" (as opposed to narration, which is the question of "who tells the story?", while "focalization" asks the question of "through whose eyes do we see the story unfold?"). If you're interested read Gerard Genette Book "Die Erzählung" (I don't know the English title, being Swiss) and Seymour Chatman's "Coming to terms", which describes narration in film (where narrators are treated differently than in literary theory).
    In my opinion (my paper is about just that, but I just started writing it, so no conclusion yet), it is exactly the changes in focalization (what Genette calls "aliteration") that is the most prominent aspect of this films narration and a major one in confusing the audience and blurring the lines between different realities and identities. This is visibly very easily and clearly in the films climactic sequence, where Mima wakes up numerous times and the already blurry lines between reality and fiction vanish almost completely. Since I don't want to spoiler I'm not going to go into detail, but a part of that sequence shows a scene VERY CLEARLY NOT seen through Mima's eyes.


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