Originally published on Set The Tape
‘Mimi was a pop idol, worshipped by the masses until fashion dictated otherwise. In order to salvage her career, she is advised to drop music and pursue acting. She is offered a main role in a popular series, but the character is less clean cut than she would like. Regardless, she agrees to the part, but events take a turn for the worse. When she suspects that someone is stalking her, finds a website that seems to know every intimate detail of her life, and people she knows begins to be murdered, Mimi’s grip on reality itself begins to slip.’
Cartoons aren’t just for kids. Perfect Blue is a perfect example of this. Whilst some animes designed for an adult audience rely on ultra violence or sex to set it apart from those made for kids, Perfect Blue forgoes much of this to tell a story of a young woman being drawn into a darker world, one that leads her down a path towards madness.
The directorial debut of one of the greatest anime directors of all time, Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue tells a very real story of a very real person; of a young woman desperate to remain in the entertainment industry, even if that means having to reinvent herself and to do some things that goes against her clean cut image. Perhaps more so than when the film was first released 20 years ago, but this is a story that many people will be familiar with.
As a popular young singer who has to forgo her innocent image in order to remain popular, Mimi works well as a surrogate for many young women in the entertainment industry, bringing to mind such names as Miley Cyrus or Lindsay Lohan. Whilst the media present such young women as excessive and the victims of their own success, Perfect Blue shows its heroine as something of a naive person. She wants to leave pop singing behind and challenge herself as an actor, but only gets small single line parts to begin with. At the insistence of her agent she takes on a more serious role, one that involves her taking part in a graphic rape scene.
Mimi is talked into doing this by the people around her, and is desperate to please and further her career, so doesn’t realise the impact such a role with have on her image, or her mental health. Indeed, this idea is further emphasised later in the film when Mimi takes part in a photo shoot where the photographer convinces her to remove her clothing. The resulting images, some of which are bordering on the pornographic, are released in magazines without Mimi’s knowledge, furthering the emotional distress the experiences at being used by those around her.
Whilst these events have their toll on Mimi’s health, it’s ultimately the actions of a small number of her fans, and one particularly obsessed fan, that pushes her further into mental decline. Discovering a fan website that is written as if she were the author, she begins to question if she is doing the right thing, how the writer can know so much about her life, and if she may even have another personality that hates her for what she’s done.
As the film goes on, Mimi’s grip on reality loosens, and as a result the events of the film become more confusing and fractured, resulting in the audience questioning what is and isn’t real as much as the characters.
The scenes take on surreal quality, cutting between events in such a way that you’re not sure if what you’ve just seen was real or not. It puts you in the same position as Mimi, it lets you experience an event they way she does without any additional content to let you know if what has happened is within her mind or actual events. Towards the latter half of the film I thought that I had a good handle on what was actually happening, before having this opinion changed by a new development, before shifting yet again.
It’s fairly clear what actually happened by the end of the film, though some do still debate what exactly does happen even 20 years after the film came out. However, I won’t tell you anything about the last act of the film here, as if you haven’t seen Perfect Blue you really need to go and watch it without having the final events of the film spoilt for you.
Perfect Blue is often cited as inspiration for the film Black Swan, and it’s hard to deny that the two have a lot in common. Much like the Aronofsky film, Perfect Blue pushes the lines between reality and madness, it uses strange transitions and cuts to alter events, it’s score at times feels mesmerizing and otherworldly, and it’s lead character is convincing as young woman losing herself within the strangeness of the world around her.
Perfect Blue is one of the best psychological thrillers in cinema, but is sadly overlooked by many due to it being an animated film. If you haven’t seen Perfect Blue (and odds are you probably haven’t) take advantage of the 20th anniversary re-release and go and watch what is easily one of the greatest animated films ever made.
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