Perfect Blue and Losing Our Perfect Self

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[Preface – I’m back! Summer break is finally here, and after a particularly soul-crushing semester in academia, I’m ready to get back to working on things I actually enjoy doing: Drawing, biking, watching anime, and most importantly, writing this blog! To kick off my surely long-awaited return, I’m sharing my final paper from a film class, one that I’ve actually added to and touched up quite a bit since turning in because I apparently care more about what my readers think than my professor…to whom I’m sorry if you end up reading this. You’re cool, I swear! I just was lazy and didn’t give the proper time and effort for the graded paper that I did for my anime blog! Um…anyway, I will give a SPOILER WARNING for all of you that have not seen Perfect Blue. Go watch it. It’s amazing. If you don’t believe me, go watch it, then come back and tell me all the reasons why I’m wrong. Oh, also, I only used KissAnime for screenshots because I couldn’t do it on my own personal DVD. It was for educational purposes! And I’m a Crunchyroll Premium member!]

“Who are you?” – A line repeated by Perfect Blue protagonist Mima as she prepares for her debut in the acting world after leaving her previous career as a Japanese pop idol. When equipped with the context of the film itself, we can instantly understand the greater meaning behind these words. When versed in the entire work of Satoshi Kon, we can begin to understand beyond any single film in his collection, that this is a man with a profound focus on an aspect of humanity that many will fail to question or confront. This idea of who we are and how that shapes our reality is the area of which Kon delves deep into, influencing all of his work as he masterfully portrays his truth on the matter in both his writing and cinematography. In Perfect Blue, we get “a nightmarish look at the duality that exists between the persona and the avatar” (S.E.W.), portraying the potential threat in the separation of the pieces of one’s self and showcasing the dangers of “perpetuating an idea of who we are and what we represent” (S.E.W.). This film is of tremendous importance as it marks a turning point in society and focuses on a theme of exponentially increasing significance in the information age we live in. The way Satoshi Kon expresses this theme throughout the film is worthy of taking note, as his astonishing display of horror was truly beyond anything we had ever seen before—something that people wouldn’t have dwelled on at the time, but certainly should be thinking about now.

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Perfect Blue is all about the different ways we can and can be perceived. One of the very first spoken lines after a Power Rangers-esque live event was a kid commenting while leaving the crowd: “That was nothing like the stuff on TV”. Immediately, the idea of dual realities is implanted in our minds—a reality based on what we garner from the media (TV, magazines, etc.) and a reality we can perceive with our own two eyes. Being a different person on screen is a motif that exists throughout the movie, as anytime we perceive Mima it’s primarily through two distinct ways: one being when she’s alone, or feels alone—we’re given shots of her increasingly un-mundane, normal-person life, without any of the glam found in her second perceived state of being: as a public figure. When seen through this lens, well, it means we are quite literally seeing her through a lens—be it during a film shooting, TV interview, or a risqué pin-up photoshoot. This is the Mima that the world knows, and from that perspective we can derive an infinite amount of interpretations.

The most disturbing interpretation is the one held by the film’s murderous stalker, whom Kon masterfully depicts in one frame all we need to know about him. In Mima’s last performance as an idol at the start of the film, the stalker is in the crowd, reaching out his open hand towards the stage. Once we’re given his perspective in the first person, we see he’s holding the idol Mima in his palm. He believes in this idealized version of her, as well as believes his investment in her equates to a form of ownership. In a way, he’s right. “Fundamentally the persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between the individual and society to what a man should appear to be” (C. Jung). Mima’s stage persona only “exists” because society allows her to, that an unspoken deal has been made between her and the audience that supports her. However, “as a social tool the persona is useful, but, in Jung’s view, it is insufficient as the basis for an authentic form of selfhood” (C.D. Smith 69).

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Before I elaborate on that, however, I must first direct attention to the portrayal of Mima’s former self. Throughout the film we receive a steady buildup of imagery involving reflections, which first act as a reminder of the crucial idea of how we see ourselves. Later on, this brings us to a frightening pay off when the idol Mima starts to appear in these reflections, and then steps out of the reflections and into the real world. Her former persona has, in a way, become a manifested shadow, and the television show Mima is a part of oh-so-coincidentally shares the same subject matter as the predicament she finds herself in. “My other self that I buried deep within my heart…What if that other personality started acting on its own?”: a line spoken by Mima herself, perhaps far too on-the-nose but nevertheless expresses the deep, dark inner-struggle we find her facing.

What Mima is facing is more than a struggle with her own identity—this being aside from the very real and dangerous struggle of a murderous stalker in her life. This is a clash over her ideal, public image: a concept that used to be exclusive to celebrities, but now can be applied to everyone with a Twitter account. Satoshi Kon deserves tremendous recognition for understanding exactly where the internet would go, what it would become—a place for everyone to display their ideal self. “Mima’s Room” is a blog dedicated to logging everything Mima does throughout the day. Whether she’s posting about the food she ate or the shoes she bought, Mima is putting herself out into the internet…in 1997. This is the same year that the first “recognizable” (and that’s being generous) social media site, Six Degrees came out. Only in 1999 did blogging sites really start to become popular, and then in 2003, Myspace finally came into existence. Kon deserves recognition for possibly, and I would say most likely, predicting these trends years before they happened—taking what could now be considered an era defining theme of self-image and twisting it into a thrilling psychological horror where an ex-idol watches as someone else writes her life, further relinquishing control over her own image, as well as a piece of herself.

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“Jung argues that a number of psychological repercussions result from the ego’s mistaken identification with the persona” (C.D. Smith 69). We can definitely find this to be true in Perfect Blue, though not through the fault of Mima. It’s revealed later that her talent agent was the one who never truly let go, and identified so heavily with Mima’s idol persona that she completely lost her own sense of self in the process. The same goes for the murderous stalker, further cementing the fact that it can be dangerous to fall in love with ideas. Most importantly, however, are the clear psychological repercussions that Mima herself faces. By previously identifying with this stage persona, Mima develops profound repercussions when she tries to completely separate herself from it, which are exacerbated the existence of a murderous stalker and a disturbingly personal blog site hijacking her personality. An overreliance on the persona set Mima up for a dangerous fall. When we put our idealized self out there for the world to see, we risk losing it, and essentially allow others the chance to warp that image—sometimes in profoundly disturbing ways.

The most impressive part of this film does not, however, come from shocking twists and clever psychological character writing. What’s truly astonishing about this film is how it blurs the lines of reality to match the psychological state of its main protagonist. “Kon carefully orchestrated the context his characters live in, making them inseparable from their environment and, therefore, making the surrounding ‘reality’ as tenuous as their own identity” (A. Zahlten 29). A tenuous reality reliant on the character that inhabits it is the exact trick Satoshi Kon uses to get the audiences to suffer the same confusion Mima does. As Mima loses grip of reality, so does the film itself, by having separate scenes and separate places bleed together in rapid succession, with a purposeful overuse of a gasping wake up-cut that does the opposite of the film trick’s original intended purpose—instead of assuring us that it was all a dream, assuring us of nothing.

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Scenes are now established in retrospect, only explained (and not reliably) by Mima’s awakening in bed or the director’s booming voice yelling “CUT!” as a scene wraps up. Only after do we turn the camera around or zoom out to reveal that there were cameras surrounding her, or that we were watching through a screen the entire time. Meg Rickards coined Kon’s unique style of montage as an “image conglomeration”, moving between Mima’s bed to the film set, to scenes of a murder and back to bed without any indication of the change in settings. There is no existence of typical film techniques “cross-fades, dissolves or establishing shots to link scenes with different locations or time settings, or to convey that we are entering dream territory” (M. Rickards).

Satoshi Kon was far beyond his contemporaries, so much so that he managed to pull off such a mind-bending thriller with a thematic focus on aspects of now modern-day life that no one could’ve possibly predicted—or so I had thought. Through masterful use of cinematography, Perfect Blue blends dreams and reality in a swift and striking manner—a style that Kon would continue to carry throughout his career. With a powerful warning, and even more powerful execution, Satoshi Kon portrays to us the dangers of sharing our lives with the world, showing us a frighteningly easy way for us to relinquish control of our image, and of ourselves.

 

Berra, John, and Alexander Zahlten. Directory of World Cinema: Japan. Intellect, 2010.

Rickards, Meg. “Screening Interiority: Drawing on the Animated Dreams of Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue .” 2006.

Smith, Curtis Dean. Jung’s Quest for Wholeness: A Religious and Historical Perspective. State University of New York Press, 1990.

Watts, Rachel. “The Beginner’s Guide: Satoshi Kon, Director.” Film Inquiry, 13 Apr. 2017, http://www.filminquiry.com/the-beginners-guide-satoshi-kon/.

Super Eyepatch Wolf (S.E.W.). “Why Perfect Blue Is Terrifying.” 2017. YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJmK5SOeQBc&t=404s. [real name unknown]

Satoshi Kon, director. Perfect Blue. Madhouse, 1997.

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