Dec 8th, 2023, 11:30 AM

A (Brief) Review of Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue

By Anna Karenina
Image Credit: Midjourney (AI generated), personal use
A look at one of anime’s most beloved, psychologically disturbing thrillers

When it comes to “most disturbing anime films that one can watch”, Satoshi Kon’s 1997 film, Perfect Blue—at once a psychological thriller and also a pop culture critique—should rank high on that list. Anime films of the 1990’s are startlingly different to what the industry produces today. The film is not cute, at all, nor is it trying to be; it is dark and gritty, atmospheric, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth and that lingering sensation of discomfort long after viewing. It is not the film to watch on a quiet Sunday evening with friends, unless you are the type of person who enjoys that kind of thing.


Perfect Blue - Official Trailer


The film follows the career and mental breakdown of retired pop star turned actor, Mima, and depicts the degradation of her psyche startlingly well. If one thinks of celebrity in the West as a social nuisance, with its hoards of screaming fans and omnipresent news cycle constantly hovering over our shoulders, something has to be said about how celebrity is constructed in Japan and East Asia in general, with the lengths that many fans will go to to become close to their idols and how deeply parasocial relationships can affect them. Like so many idols in East Asia, Mima’s life and every move are sifted over with a fine-toothed comb—privacy is not a thing here, folks. There is nothing that she can do or be that someone does not already know about. At times, it can feel almost as if her fans know more about her than she does herself, and this manifests as an entitlement to her body, her mind and her soul, putting her in a position where she is unable to advocate for herself or make her own decisions, due to fear of upsetting the collective.

Perfect Blue raises a lot of questions about identity and the role which it plays in modern life, with identity and the construction of the self being such a fragile concept already in a world which demands reinvention at the drop of a hat or more accurately, the pernicious shifting of trends. While being a star may seem glamorous to the common person, when Mima looks at herself in the mirror, she struggles to see who she really is and this is where the cracks begin to show in her mental state. Is she a pop idol, or just Mima who incidentally is famous? Who is “me” anyway? Is she just a property of others, what other people see of her? Her agents, her adoring public, the cameras? She is haunted by this Other Mima, who taunts her as she goes about her daily life, feeling torn between doing what she must to salvage her career and the far-reaching implications of a scene which could, would and likely will ruin her squeaky clean reputation, yet it is this scene which forces her to teeter on the cliff of being a fully autonomous individual in control of her own destiny, or just another pawn in the never-ending wheel of idol culture.


Perfect Blue: Interview with Director Satoshi Kon


Interestingly, it is Mima’s relationship with her kind-of-doppelganger-but-not-really agent, Rumi, that will really throw one for a loop. Rumi, with her fish-like eyes and perpetually pained facial expressions, is deeply, maddeningly obsessed with her client to the point that she herself believes that she is the real Mima. But is she really, or is this just another fragment in Mima’s already broken, fractured mind? Mima herself has already begun to disassociate from her own body, as we see in her inability to recollect whether or not she was the one who killed the photographer Murano or the writer from the show which she is supposed to film, Double Bind. The culmination of the film leads to an explosive fight to the death between Mima and Rumi, seeing the film end on an ambiguous note which baffles fans to this day due to the numerous possible translations of the ending words.

Again, this is not the sort of film one recommends to friends to enjoy with popcorn and soda. It’s a disturbing but interesting film that will leave a lasting impression on viewers for hours, if not days after viewing. However, Perfect Blue is increasingly relevant in an age where mental health is a more prominent and pressing issue than many would like to admit, and the lengths to which many of us will go to seek fame, and the price we pay when we are unable to separate our identity from the false reality which the world projects onto us.


Satoshi Kon - Editing Space & Time