Perfect Blue offers a chilling account of identity, and obsession in the digital age, writes Kieran Enright
Perfect Blue is by no means a run-of-the-mill animated film. Director Satoshi Kon utilizes the medium of animation to deliver one of the most unsettling, twisted experiences in cinema. The film operates on two facets of horror; the evident aesthetic gore that it depicts, and the disturbing exploration of social identity, and the value placed upon our perceived persona both online, and offline.
The film loosely tells the story of Mima Kirigoe, a member of a Japanese girl-group, on the cusp of a dramatic career shift. When we meet our heroine, she is performing her last concert as a member of “Cham!”.
Immediately we are drawn into the world of Mima’s identity – or rather, her perceived identity.
Upon the announcement of her departure, her fanbase erupts in anger and disappointment. This dismay is amplified when Mima decides she wants to pursue a career in acting, with her first major role in a police drama. It’s clear from the onset of Mima’s career shift that her public persona has not transitioned easily. A fan-letter sent by a stalker to the filming location explodes, injuring her manager, and an anonymous website titled “Mima’s Room” is created which recounts Mima’s daily life, as diary entries, to disturbing detail.
While Mima remains as the protagonist of the film, the “stalker” character holds incredible thematic weight in the narrative. We explore the world of Perfect Blue through Mima’s eyes, however we understand Mima’s character on a deeper level through her stalker. This character is aesthetically repulsive – which reflects his intentions, and obsession with Mima. Their relationship throughout the film is fundamentally observer-observed. While this remains a disturbing idea in and of itself, the true horror lay in the similarity of their relationship to modern relationship dynamics as manufactured by social media platforms such as Instagram. In the same way this stalker character believes he understands Mima, many of us believe we understand who people are, through their depiction online.
Throughout the movie, we are constantly reassured of the film’s core theme: identity.
Mima’s first lines of dialogue on her new show are “Who are you?”, which she nervously repeats over and over. Likewise, she tears down a poster of “Cham!” which hangs over her bed, quietly muttering “Bye-Bye, Mima the Pop Star”. The way she identifies her past self as a “Pop-Star”, and her new self as “Movie-Star” is indicative of the human need to align oneself with a quality or trait in order to feel valuable.
As the film progresses, it’s tone and imagery darken. Mima is forced to partake in incredibly intimate and upsetting scenes on her TV show in order to sever the link between her old persona and her new one. Likewise, the progression of the story becomes deeply embedded in Mima’s perception of herself, and the world around her. As her stalker begins to take more drastic measures to get the “old Mima” back, we see Mima begin to lose control of her surroundings, and ultimately, of herself. Her reflections begin to stare back at her, scenes seem to bleed into one another in jarring fashion, and locations swim around her. She begins to visit the “Mima’s Room” website more frequently, only to find that the anonymous diary entries describe a person at conflict with themselves – a reality that Mima refuses to confront. The stress of her new career, and the progressively horrific incidents occurring around her, send Mima into a spiral of delusion where she begins to question her own reality.
Perfect Blue is a film drenched in the time of its creation, 1997. Throughout, we see images advertising the “world-wide-web”. When Mima buys a computer to explore “Mima’s Room”, she is given a tutorial by her manager on how to open up the browser.
This innocence in digitization only magnifies the horror of its message.
Social media allows us all to have a following, just like Mima. We all have a number next to our names on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that indicates our perceived popularity. We nurture these platforms, and engineer identities for ourselves by posting specific images or messages that we believe enhance the idea of who we think we are. However, what happens when the lines between who we are, and who we want people to think we are, blur? What happens when the boundaries between ourselves and our avatars disappear?
The film is particularly horrifying due to its exploration of the observer-observed relationship, through Mima and her stalker. Yet, how different is this relationship and the relationships we have with people we follow on Instagram, or Twitter? When the fictional persona of the old Mima is taken away from her stalker, he reacts violently and dramatically. Disturbingly questioning the damage that can occur when other people take our online identities for reality.
Perfect Blue is a dark exploration of obsession, and identity in the modern era.
As time goes by, its message only becomes more relevant, and distressing. After all, in today’s digital age, we are all the observer, and the observed. We are all putting on a show, and everyone is watching.