Perfect Blue (1997) is a psychological thriller and mystery directed by Satoshi Kon. The narrative centers around the life of Japanese female pop idol Mima, a member of the notorious CHAM! At the beginning of the film, Mima leaves the group to pursue a serious acting career. Throughout the film, she struggles with her new identity as an upcoming actress as she tries to leave her cutesy, innocent, and naive idol image behind. She gradually begins to lose her grip on reality while simultaneously dealing with the stalking of an obsessed fan. Three main themes are to be noted upon further analysis of Perfect Blue. Voyeurism, fandom culture, and the relationship between humanity and the internet all tie into the core theme of identity that Mima inadvertently grapples with.
The main aspect of Mima’s character is her transition from pop idol to actress, and the narrative exhibits the many sacrifices to her integrity as a woman in the public eye. In an attempt to distance herself from her innocent pop idol image, she partakes in a graphic rape scene for a television drama called Double Bind and agrees to degrade herself in nude photo shoots with a perverted photographer. Mima feels that in order to be taken seriously as a grown woman and actress, she must allow herself to be exploited by powerful men. In context with Mima’s pop idol status, female idols are expected to maintain a youthful and virginal image. They are viewed as sweet and innocent, yet are still sexually objectified to cater to the male gaze.
“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.”
Perfect Blue shows how Mima is perceived by the male characters, particularly the men who control Mima’s career: Tadokoro (Mima’s agent), Takao (the screenwriter for Double Bind), and Murano (the photographer). The male gaze objectifies Mima for sexual pleasure. Kon allows the audience to experience Mima’s mental state, displaying the psychological effects from the violent sexual exploitation that she goes through as an actress. Mima is seductive enough to attract her male fans, but not so seductive that she is considered sexually promiscuous. This is shown in the opening scene of the film by the outfit that Mima wears as she and the other members of CHAM! perform in front of their fanbase—a crowd full of men.
Fandom Culture & Identity
Mima’s identity is intertwined with other thematic patterns, including reality vs. hallucination and memory vs. film (her acting gig). The lines between real life and fantasy become increasingly blurred, exacerbated through the paranoia and stress perpetuated by her obsessive stalker. The gaslighting from her manager, Rumi, is also another stressor that worsens her fragile mental state. Furthermore, there is a frightening monotony exhibited through the use of cuts between each scene—as Mima’s days begin to feel like they blend together. She becomes unable to distinguish events that happen in her everyday mundane life and events that occur during her scenes on Double Bind.
The start of Mima’s struggle with her self-conflicting identity begins with the scene in which she discovers through the Internet that an idol blog page is impersonating her. The page reveals disturbingly vivid details about how she goes through her daily life, such as what she bought at the grocery store. The tension of the scene is heightened as the camera slowly pushes in on her, which helps to encapsulate the intense stress she is feeling. It is visually stunning and cleverly framed to heavily immerse the viewers into Mima’s anxiety-ridden headspace. Additionally, the eerie sound design that is played on a constant loop — “Who are you?” is a direct nod to her inner turmoil. The pop of red in the background ties the composition of these shots together, making for a truly phenomenal scene that effectively demonstrates Kon’s thematic and creative vision.
The fish tank present in Mima’s room alludes to her transition from innocent idol to mature actress. The fish symbolize her mental state and psyche during the process. Like the fish, she is “trapped” within the confines of the glass, because when she tries to “leave the tank,” she cannot. It is representative of the fact that she can’t fully escape the reputation she’s built for herself as an idol. And that weight carried over to her acting career, as she is primarily perceived as mere “eye candy” within the lens of the male gaze. The fish tank is seen again, but the fish are dead. Their deaths represent Mina’s lost sexual purity and innocence to the public eye because of the explicit sexual assault scene she had just performed for the show Double Bind.
Humanity and the Internet
The Internet as a platform was something that was foreign to Mima until she was introduced to it with the help of her manager and friend Rumi. It was first an amusing endeavor for Mima, exploring the wide arrange of archives online was fun for her. Then she discovered the blog page “Mima’s Room,” which served as the catalyst of her unhealthy engagement with the Internet. Throughout the film, Mima becomes obsessed with checking in on “her” blog page—as someone was impersonating and creating this very specific public image of herself. This ties in with the theme of identity, since Mima feels that her persona and sense of self are vulnerable and compromised.
Perfect Blue takes place and was released in the 90s, and it is almost as if Kon had predicted the impact that the Internet would have on people today. With the rise of social media titans such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and many more, it should come as no surprise the influence that these platforms have upon this generation and future generations to come. It is common knowledge the correlation between debilitating mental health issues—depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.—and how the Internet can exacerbate these issues. For Mima, it tragically encompasses how the pressure of being in the public eye affects her throughout the film. It manages to show how the interactions between idols and fans can be damaging to someone’s mental health.
To conclude, Satoshi Kon showcases an extraordinary creative vision with his sensibilities as a director. In Perfect Blue, he exemplifies his mastery of animation as he demonstrates themes of voyeurism, fandom culture & identity, and the relationship between humanity and the Internet.