Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) “I Am Who I Am!”

Satoshi Kon is arguably, alongside Hayao Miyazaki, the most important Japanese director of animated films. Perfect Blue is his first film and this directorial debut can be compared to David Lynch’s Eraserhead due to sheer boldness and far-reaching artistic vision. The film begins with a show staged for children featuring a Japanese version of Power Rangers. While he walks out of the show, a kid makes a remark: That was nothing like the stuff on TV. That was so cheap! In the very first scene, we see that illusion obtained through technology (during this era still mostly TV) is deemed more exhilirating and stimulating than reality. This will be important for interpreting the film.

A pop group CHAM!, consisting of three young girls, one of them being Mima, the protagonist of the film, enter the stage and Mima announces her withdrawal from the group to become an actress. Some boys start to cause trouble, and a man with a deformed face defends Mima. Seen from certain angles, his eyesockets seem empty. The girls are dressed in white, they almost look like dolls, innocent but attractive. The scene is edited in such a way that we see Mima being nervous, crying and saying that she “cannot do this after all”. She is talking about acting, and the purity and joy of the performance are thus contrasted with her anxiety. During the scene, the man with a deformed face is shown as if he is holding her on his palm. This is one of the many examples of the use of the trompe l’oile technique, Satoshi Kon’s signature mark.We see Mima’s room which is full of pillows in the shape of a heart, teddy bears and dolls, suggesting innocence and perhaps infantilism; she is 21 years old. She sees that someone created a web page which recounts her every move and presents himself as Mima.

It does not matter that we know that it is not Mima, but the readers don’t. And on the other hand, it is Mima since her movements are correctly described. Soon she receives an anonymous call and all she can hear over the phone is lustful gasping. She receives a note on the fax which says: “TRAITOR”: When she starts acting, in the beginning she gets a minor role, only a few lines. She receives a letter from a fan, and the producer opens it, a minor explosion occurs and he is lightly wounded.Soon we see anxious Mima and a red curtain by her face. Red is usually associated with passion and love, but as the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro said in a lecture held in Zagreb a few days ago, different colors mean different things to different people. For example, some experiences from childhood can evoke different emotions regarding a certain color we see in our childhood, depending on the good or frustrating emotions which accompany it. In this case, red, which appears often throughout the film is associated with another powerful emotion – anxiety, even fear. As she runs down the hallway, which is not long, the running seems to last longer due to her feelings of fear and confusion.

She is offered to act in a scene involving the rape of her character, and strangely, she accepts, while her agent is strongly opposed to it. During the filming of the rape scene her agent, a sort of a mother figure, is crying, and Mima is crying as well. This scene evokes the scene from Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible. Although in the Perfect Blue scene is far less brutal, it is interesting to contrast the motives of a fictional actress Mima. Monica Belucci said that she liked to explore the darkest sides of the psyche, while Mima seems to understand it as nothing particularly controversial. During the scene, the editing sequence shows Mima as a pop singer, dressed in white, and purity is again contrasted to something “filthy”. At this point, it is important to note that pop industry can be no less degrading than the television industry. Mima idealizes pop industry, sees it as something pure and juvenile, while the acting industry is “filthy”; she sees pop industry through the lenses of a young person not yet disillusioned.

She starts to hallucinate, and sees herself dressed in white dress but it seems that this delusion should not be seen as a sign of a mental disorder, but as an illusion which serves the purpose of emphasizing the main motifs of the film – the loss of identity and an endeavor to regain it. The moralistic aspect should not be neglected and particularly the filthy-pure opposition. When the screenwriter of the Double Bind, a TV show Mima is acting in, is in the parking lot, he hears pop music playing on the stereo, and as he enters the elevator he sees the stereo and some of the lyrics read: “Can’t you see the angel’s white wings”, again emphasizing the purity which is the obsession of the stalker no less than Mima’s. The man is murdered and his eyes are ripped out: the symbolism is obvious, the stalker wanted to take out the very eyes with which the screenwriter looked at Mima. Mima wakes from her sleep and it seems that she dreamed  of the murder as it happened. She finds bloody clothes in her closet and starts to question her sanity; it is most likely that the murderer left them there. Soon, she is shown riding in a car with her producer, her face is sad and the windows are red once again.

Mima agrees to strip naked in front of a photographer and erotic nude pictures are taken. Soon we see the man with a deformed face crying and Mima’s head under water. She says: “Bastards!”. In a scene on the deck, we see the ships which are shown in the dark, grayish blue pervades the scene. Mima is talking to the actress she is working with on a show and she tells her: I don’t know anything about myself anymore. The actress replies: Well, how do you think you know that person you were a second ago is the same person you are now? A continuous stream of memories (we see red pillars amidst the grayish blue) Given only that, we all create illusions within ourselves saying that we each only have one fixed persona. Mima says she is scared that her other self might do something bad and the actress replies: It’s all right. There is no way illusions can come to life. She states that our identites are not fixed and that everything is in a flux. This is correct, yet this can start to be confusing and even nightmarish if one’s identity is changing rapidly,  not gradually, as it is characteristic for identity change. One may easily lose semblance to his “self”, the one he has learned to perceive as such, and chaotic disorder ensues. 

At the same moment we see the man with a deformed face, his eyesockets are empty. We realize that the conversation takes place on a set, it is all acting. Kon toys with the ideas of illusion and reality filming a film within a film and the conversation perfectly fits with Mima’s reality. Soon, we see Mima running through the night (amidst the blue and black umbrellas, one that is red appears), the truck hits her and she awakes. Reality, dreams and illusions merge into one and for a moment it is hard to discern between them. Mima feels the same. Later she says that maybe the truck really hit her and all this is just an illusion.Mima tells to her agent and mother figure of the other self that is buried deep inside her heart. The photographer is murdered and this time, Mima dreams that she killed him with a screwdriver. Soon, we see Mima talking to a psychiatrist; she tells her that she is a pop star, but also an actress. The psychiatrist diagnoses multiple personality disorder. Again, this is filmed on a set. Very well, it could be true. Kon’s technique brilliantly makes us question the sanity of the protagonist and reminds us that what is an illusion of some sort can very well be real and vice versa. As she dreams of killing the photographer, the same thing happens in reality.

When Double Bind is finally finished and the building is emptied, we see Mima’s stalker who tries to re-enact the rape which happened in the TV series and tries to kill her. She fends him off,  and in a particularly surreal scene her agent is dressed in red and starts chasing her. Her agent is hit by a truck and we finally see Mima with blood on her hands, having a smile on her face. The illusions vanish, she finally accepts that she is who she is and regains identity. Thus a disturbing and horrifying film ends on a happy note, much like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. It seems that the directors who toy with reality and surrealism like Lynch and Kon have a need to end all the bleakness and horror and end the film optimistically. This is reassuring for the audience since a horrifying ending would make the films an exercise in nihilistic horror. After experiencing anxiety, some kind of relief is given, and whether this is a good approach or not, remains for the viewer to decide.

 

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