In the late 70s, the heady buzz surrounding anime that had been ushered into the West by titles such as the 1963 TV series Astro Boy and the 1965 Kimba the White Lion had started to fade. Video store shelves had begun to bulge with violent, gun-toting Lolita’s and cult followings of the hyper-sexual tentacle porn (hentai) had soured the reputation of the genre.
Then came Akira (1988) and with it a swath of landmark films that would guide the genre into a Western renaissance. The release of Perfect Blue by director Satoshi Kon in 1997 showcased a brash, gaudy, visually haunting feature that, in true Kon style, provided us with an uncomfortably accurate prophesier to the erosion of private life in the internet age.
The central character Mima Kirigoe (Junko) is a 21-year-old squeaky clean pop idol who turns her back on her sunshine and rainbows pop trio to pursue a career as an actress. The problem is that the old butter-wouldn’t-melt image refuses to fade and continues to haunt Mima through a disturbingly violent fan and an internet blog page that presents an eerily well-informed yet fake personal diary.
In a bid to further her career, Mima loses control over her life as every decision is made for her, she becomes an observer to her own fate. She is unwittingly goaded by her agent and admonished by her assistant into performing in a gratuitously lurid rape scene and posing for several nude photos. In the background of all this, we see Mima as the young girl she is, alone in her room, feeding her fish, listening to music.
The narrative of real life and TV become increasingly interchangeable and the boundaries ever blurred. Scene bleeds into scene at a disorienting rate, timelines merge and become hazy, dream and waking life are one and the same. Kon has a habit of matching screen transitions, frame to frame and often using objects to wipe the frame creating a heightened feeling of disorientation.
Her torment escalates as a number of grisly murders take place and Mima is haunted by her own psychic projection of herself that is as much hers as it is her crazed fans. A dancing pop-doll twirling in the cupped hand of an anonymous voyeur reminds us how little control Mima has over her public persona.
Certain scenes make for uneasy viewing when seen through today’s Weinstein-era prism; the brazen exploitation of the young female lead feels out-of-sync with the current #MeToo movement. However, it’s hard to deny the power of Mima’s raw vulnerability.
Screenwriter Murai Sadayuki develops a complex, multi-faceted structure around Mima’s psychosis and the film is littered with metaphor; the TV show she stars in is called Double Bind. As Mima becomes ever more immersed in her dream world, the colour slowly drains away from the real world as if it’s being stolen away into the glistening mirage of Mima’s pop universe.
The residual aftershocks that linger from witnessing the numerous scenes of sexual exploitation do eventually fade as the film moves beyond the standard vulnerable-female-in-danger affair. As the film picks up the pace in the second half, it begins to have much more to say about the nature of celebrity and fame. Fame and popularity serve as an addiction for both star and audience – a mutual dependency. Mima learns about her life through the blog entries posted by an anonymous fan.
The artificial pop mirage of Mima’s creation taunts her cruelly as she desperately tries expel her through her TV career. Unfortunately for Mima, neither her ghost nor her fans are willing to allow her to shed her old image, a frightfully accurate depiction of today’s ‘ownership culture’ wherein dedicated fans believe they somehow have ownership over, or are owed something by,their idols.