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Perfect Blue (1997); And Our Complicated Relationship with Celebritism

October 9, 2017

Watching Perfect Blue was intense, gripping even—so much so that I’m still processing my way through it. As a story, it does many things right in the realm of being an effective psychological thriller, and yet I still feel slightly unsatisfied and partially gypped. Perfect Blue is an anime that I suggest every cinephile that’s ever said or thought the phrase, “I’m just not into anime” watch, especially if films among the same vein as Jacob’s Ladder and Fatal Attraction, piques interest. It’s a beaming example of how animation can stand toe to toe with live action films even heightening a story in ways that live action can’t through fantasy. Satoshi Kon’s cerebral thriller follows Mima, a pop star that’s grown tired of her suffocating lifestyle as a singer and yearns for a change in trajectory. Having received praise for a previous acting gig, she sets her sights on becoming a thespian hoping to shed her good girl image with a role in a television drama akin to Law & Order.

However, not everyone is happy with Mima’s decision and she becomes just one of the many attempting to adjust to her career change. Unbeknownst to her, an adoring fan is vexed with Mima’s pop idol persona and angered by the shedding of her status as a singer and someone begins expressing their disdain in sinister ways. Meanwhile a website known as “Mima’s Room” appears online documenting the day to day feelings and actions of Mima the pop star to the complete shock of the real Mima. The resulting events cause the former idol to fall into a world of hallucination and depression as she begins to question if she’s even the real Mima or a fraud.

Don’t let the cartoon nature of this film turn you off if you aren’t savvy to the world anime. Perfect Blue is a chilling thriller that foretold the dark side of internet impersonation at a time when computers were still a novelty. In one scene, we watch as Mima is taught how to open a browser and search the web when she first hears about Mima’s Room. She adorably hunts and pecks at the keyboard upon initial use and finds delight in reading the silly diary entries that seems to have her persona down to a T. It’s only when she begins to recognize private thoughts and unconscious patterns sprawled out in this online diary that she grows uneasy. We then take a hard turn into the uncanny and unreal sending viewers and Mima down a rabbit hole of delusions as we experience her nervous breakdown unfold in dreamlike ways.

And perhaps this is why I felt largely frustrated when watching Perfect Blue and completely unnerved by the ending. Not simply because of the reality that people can become truly unhinged by the status of a celebrity. It almost seems like human nature to fawn over someone that has been deemed “famous.” Humans develop a physiologically reaction to another human being that has been socially adorned: we excrete sweat, the heart starts to race, the senses heightened, outbursts of crying can happen, fainting, and simply losing any sense of “chill” one may possess. Some fans take this reaction a step further by wanting to become their idol or inflict harm on their idol or others because of this obsession. These are all things I’m aware of. My own reactions to celebrities and the movie/show Catfish alone has been a reminder of that. What struck me most was the all to real social responses to Mima’s decisions as well as having to watch her struggle in dealing with the pressures of the spotlight alone.

What Mima experiences is an unfortunate scenario that many talents thrust into the spotlight have dealt with and many more will suffer from. This coupled with the blatant disregard for her mental health shook me to the core. I found myself angry throughout the film. I victim-blamed Mima throughout by barking at the screen how she should stand up for herself against doing things she didn’t want to do. It took a humanizing scene in which we watch Mima fall to her bed sobbing in frustration for me to remember why this young woman—or any woman in a business that is willing to throw you away for the next hot commodity— refused to put up a fight.

It’s the same reason that movie producer Harvey Weinstein and countless others like him have been able to abuse their power and sexually harass women for so long. Mima fakes smiles when her agent tells her to because she doesn’t want to appear unhappy or ungrateful. She takes on a challenging, unpleasant role in the drama series because she doesn’t want to disappoint the people who worked hard to give her extra lines. She continues to work on set because she feels pressured to, even after two co-workers are murdered and she feels responsible for it. She carries a mountain of guilt and uncertainty on her back that is only made heavier by a string of harassments thrown her way.

And not once does anyone in her team offer her a shoulder to cry on or suggests that she take a break. As Sadayuki Murai’s script reveals, society as a whole refuses to sympathize with celebrities. We instead treat them like work horses who are supposed to grit and bear whatever tragedy or hurdle is thrown their way because they’re making lots of money: You’re in the spotlight, so smile; Don’t whine about politics, you’re a millionaire; Don’t complain about how hard it is to be a woman or a minority, be happy you made it; Get over your “bad day”, you’re rich; Get your shit together because I’m paying you and you should be grateful; Never mind that you’re a human doing a job.

Mima begins to suffer memory loss, depression, fainting spells, delusions and all the other telltale signs of a nervous breakdown and though everyone around her sees it, no one responds. No one is there for her and instead they further gaslight her about the very real fear that she’s experiencing forcing her to suffer alone. This element of Perfect Blue is all too real and more chilling than the creepy villain and the heart-pounding venture that ensues. Perfect Blue reflects on where we were in 1997, far worse but virtually the same as we are now. When I think of the people whose lives succumbed to the fact that those around them didn’t reach out because they had something to gain, I’m infuriated all over again that the we as a society have trained ourselves to let people suffer alone instead of being empathetic and caring.

Murai’s adaptation of Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel traps viewers into a web of scenarios that feel out of place only to act as a thread that connects us to a scene before or after. The colors are wonderful, the animation is tight and clean, and the ability to capture fear and tension within the story is tastefully done by Kon. It possesses all the best elements of a slasher film while being smart enough to present a social critique on how we turn a human being into an image, an avatar if you will, that we then project our own thoughts and beliefs onto. The most enlightening and tragic realization after watching Perfect Blue is that the true villain in Mima’s life is show business.

SEE IT. Then think of your favorite celebrity or persona. How would you react if they went against everything you thought you knew about them?

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