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Monday, April 27, 2015

Movie Frame Of Mind: Perfect Blue

Content warning: Discussion of the rape scene, as well as stalking and major spoilers for Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue film.

Mima Kirigoe, a member of a pop-idol group called "CHAM!", decides to quit singing to pursue a career as an actress. Some of her fans are displeased with this decision though, particularly a stalker named Me-Mania. As Mima progresses into her new career, those close to her are violently murdered one by one, and Mima begins to lose the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. (Source: MAL) 

Somehow, I have until this month avoided watching Satoshi Kon's possible magnus opus, Perfect Blue (and I only say 'possible' because the ultimate judgment on his legacy is still up in the air as more of his works are released postmortem, even if they're all manga titles). That has been a really dumb decision on my part, since Paprika is one of my favorite anime and one of my favorite films, ever, and Paranoia Agent has been one of my top Adult Swim hits since it started. Not to mention Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfather, both terrific titles!

Actually, I know why I've been waiting so long to watch Perfect Blue. It is not an easy film to watch. It is a psychological nightmarish trip through the psyche of a young girl caught up in the grinding gears of the Japanese idol system. Her transformation from adolescence to young adulthood is all caught on film; the press has had Mima Kirigoe in their sights ever since she joined CHAM!, and they create the embers of popularity stoked into flames by the feverish fans of idol fandom. Kon spares her - and us - no mercy in portraying these things in detail, in giving Mima a complete lack of privacy and stripping away her sense of self until she breaks.

Also, there is a rape scene. It is staged for a television show that Mima is taking part of, an attempt to 'mature' her public image, but it is rape, even when it is all for the camera. Everything - from the camera angles to Mima's cries to how the actors treat her off and on camera - makes the scene the most difficult one to watch of them all.

And yet - this is not the worst thing to happen to Mima during this film! And isn't that a horrible thought? No, I would say that the slow, torturous destruction of Mima's mind and private life that leads her to hallucinate another version of herself and lose grip on what is fictional and what is real is the worst thing in all of Perfect Blue. She is constantly photographed, her private moments posted anonymously on the Internet, harassed via fax and on the phone, and does not feel safe in her own home. It ends with Mima defending her life physically in two acts - against her stalker and against the woman who has been stealing her identity all along.

Keep in mind: this was made in the late nineties. Imagine the horrors Mima's fandom and her stalkers could have inflicted upon her in the age of smartphones and Apple Watches and drone warfare and live streaming and an even more brutal idol system in Japan, only second to South Korea in how it eats up and spits out young talent at a clipped rate. Or not, y'know? I think poor Mima has gone through enough. That's the point. The people who become idols and entertain us are, at the end of the day, still human.

Last point: I love how Kon used the blue screen effect on multiple scenes, like we're seeing Mima's world through an old television screen, even in moments when she's not on camera. It's a great visual effect that just adds to that overall paranoia of what is real and what is illusion. Y'all could write a thesis paper on the aesthetic aspects of Perfect Blue, hint hint.

You can watch Perfect Blue via Netflix, which will be the easiest way to find it. The last U.S. company to license it was Manga Entertainment, but it looks like their hold on it has lapsed, and the copies I can find online are outrageously priced.