Perfect Blue: The Mental Price of Fame
Blog Post by Jessica
The first time I saw Perfect Blue (1997) I was too young to fully understand the underlying messaging. I recorded it from a late-night anime movie screening on the Syfy channel and I remember feeling afraid as I watched Mima’s life unfold in front of me. The combination of realistic animation and adult themes was my first exposure to the complexities of life that can be depicted in 2D. However, as much as I found the movie to be upsetting, I was also entranced, and it has had a lasting impression on me. So when we decided to do an anime month for Spinsters, I knew I wanted to write about this cult classic. While Perfect Blue is labelled a psychological thriller, upon rewatching it I would definitely classify it as horror because its themes, particularly for women, are terrifying and deeply unsettling.
Perfect Blue (1997) is based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. The film follows Mima Kirigoe, a young woman who retires from a career of being a pop idol in the group CHAM! to pursue acting on the advice (and forceful insistence) of her agent Tadokoro. As she departs from the group and sets out on her new journey, Mima begins losing her grip on reality as she becomes the object of obsession by a superfan, who not only stalks Mima, but gruesomely kills anyone associated with her new career. The director of Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Millennium Actress, Toyko Godfathers), is well known as his films often deal with what happens when the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred. This is very apparent in how the tone of the film changes with jarring cuts that leaves the viewer confused and disoriented. Mima’s dissociation has been talked about, and analyzed, by various film critics, anime fans, and podcasters through such themes as identity, stalking, voyeurism, performance, and the demands of public perception around women.
As I watched Perfect Blue, I could not help but think about how much the film represented the dangers young women experience when they become fixtures in the public eye, particularly on social media. Social media dominates a large part of our day to day lives and with that, people have created public personas to keep up with the trends and maintain some sort of online presence. With social media, the increased exposure in order to grow a fan base has evolved to take privacy out of an individual’s life and thus leave them vulnerable to people who may not have the best intentions. For when you become a public figure, you no longer have privacy; you can become a slave to your fans -- and their wants and desires -- which are not necessarily your own. And for some people, there are fans who may lack a stable grasp on their own sanity and don't take kindly to a radical identity change, even if it is a peek of the real individual behind the public persona.
At the beginning of Perfect Blue, we watch the blending of scenes between Mima as her day-to-day self and her performance self - the one that is an object of the public eye. We see as the film continues someone who has willingly exposed herself for popularity and fame, unaware of the consequences of what that may entail. This is important as when many of us set out to create an online profile and produce content, we can easily become addicted to the thrill of gaining likes, shares, retweets, and recognition. However, particularly for artists to maintain that public persona, you are really no longer in control of your own life, particularly individuals of the entertainment industry (where Mima resides). They must follow the whims of the public to remain relevant. As Mima begins her new career, she starts to receive death threats, suspicious phone calls and is followed by a strange man. And when Mima
expresses concerns about her safety, her agent shrugs the incidents off as just pranks from fans angered at her new career path. It is not until Mima gets a computer of her own that she realizes the extent of some of her fan’s displeasure
After Rumi (her other agent) sets her up on the internet, Mima learns about a website called “Mima’s Room”. She discovers that someone has created a website to build an online presence for Mima, and it is filled with pictures from her career and day to day life. It also features an online diary where “Mima'' would post her thoughts, dreams and even feelings. The terrifying part about this revelation is that Mima, herself, is at first not bothered by this exposure or sees any harm in it. She laughs it off and carries on with her new career and identity change. However, as she begins to struggle with some requests that are being asked of her for the show ‘Double Bind’, particularly the filming of a violent gang rape scene, she becomes obsessed with this online “Mima” who continues to update the website with new daily journal entries stating how unhappy and depressed she is.
For the price of fame often young women (new actors) are asked to do things they do not feel comfortable with as not to be seen as ungrateful for the opportunity such as rape scenes, brutal violence, etc. This is particularly upsetting for Mima as she is a new actress and does not feel she can say “No” without jeopardizing her future career and therefore be seen as a difficult actress. While the scene is being filmed, Mima disassociates herself from her pop-idol image, an identity she deems safe, even if it is just acting. This is where we see the split desire in Mima to do what she is told from what she truly wants to do. Later on during a mental breakdown, Mima feels like the rape scene made her dirty/tarnished, and that she is no longer good enough because she pushed people into making her do something she did not want to do. To add to this processing of a simulated trauma, she continues to read ‘her’ journal entries online expressing that she was not happy acting and missed being a pop idol. Thoughts that Mima herself was having, but not anything she voiced publicly. This other “Mima”, like her agents, continues to expose her, without consent, just as being told she would do the rape scene despite her reservations.
As Mima falls into depression and doubts about her new career, violent murders begin to occur in relation to her. It is not a coincidence that those who were murdered were in some way connected to the transformation of Mima from her virginal pop-idol image to that of a supposedly sexually tarnished woman. It is clear that Mima’s super-fan was not only obsessed with the old version of Mima, but feels betrayed by the real Mima who had allowed for her to be ‘defiled’. The violence escalates to the point where he would not hesitate to attempt to rape and kill Mima in order to ‘save’ her.
Sadly, this is not just something that happens in fiction, but something that happens in real life. women decide to pursue some form of popularity or fame through singing, acting, streaming or even just by having a strong social media presence, we expose ourselves to dangerous people and, at times, situations. It can begin with unwanted flirtations or advances through private messages or in comments. If blocked, and these people persist, it can turn into sending emails to private accounts or messages to phone numbers gathered by illicit means - which sometimes can include a home or work address in which stalking can become a problem. Stalking an individual commences it can become a dangerous situation for that woman, especially if their concerns are not taken seriously by friends, family, and authorities. This leaves them even more vulnerable to their perpetrator. Mima is representative of women in the public eye who can never be truly free nor safe from their fan’s admiration that can at times border dangerous territory.
Perfect Blue was well ahead of its time. In 1997 the world was just starting to come online and since then the increased usage of social media has made the themes presented in the film a reality. Anyone can find who and what they want on the internet if they search hard enough. It has also bred a place where some people have a hard time separating the person from the public persona, forgetting that the individual on stage, camera, or Instagram, is not necessarily who that person truly is. It is a persona created to provide entertainment and those people can end up feeling that they must constantly remain the individual rose to fame, and any kind of radical identity change can lead to angering or losing fans. When we think we are pursuing our hopes and dreams to create freedom for ourselves, we are really just replacing one type of cage for another one. One that leaves you more exposed to the world and to unsavory obsessions. Yes, we can say that by the end of Perfect Blue the traumas that Mima experienced helped her find her future success, but at what cost?