By: Joyce Wong
Photo Credit: Madhouse
One of my favorite films is Perfect Blue (1997), an anime masterpiece by critically-acclaimed director Satoshi Kon. That name may sound familiar, as he is also the director of Paprika (2006), another anime film classic, and Paranoia Agent (2004). Like most of his work, Perfect Blue is a dark, intense, swirling and often nightmarish experience that constantly makes viewers question reality. Recently, it has jumped back into headlines for its accuracy in having portrayed social media and fame 20 years into the future. There is an endless stream of Perfect Blue analysis videos on YouTube. Even Dazed magazine put out an article last month about how the film “predicted a dark age of internet celebrity.”
Perfect Blue follows Mima, an ex-popstar, on her journey to become a television actress, much to her music fans’ disappointment. She immediately begins to receive strange and disturbing threats to stop pursuing acting—the most notable threat being a website that pretends to be Mima’s daily blog. It features incredibly personal, minute details only Mima would know, such as a compliment about a fellow co-star that Mima whispers only to her music agent, Rumi. It becomes apparent that she has a violent stalker as the website gets more and more personal and as coworkers around her begin to drop one by one in gruesome murders. The combined pressures of this eminent threat and of the media industry cause Mima to lose sight of who she is and what she truly wants—to the point of becoming an empty shell of a human literally following a hallucination of herself.
The film leads viewers to believe Me-Mania, a disfigured and obsessed fan, is the murderous stalker out to get Mima, but (SPOILER ALERT!) it was Rumi all along, jealous of Mima’s fame and disappointed with her decision to switch to acting. It is revealed that Rumi had grown to believe she is Mima and could replace her if Mima was killed.
Perfect Blue deserves all of its acclaim for its startlingly accurate depiction of social media and fame, and for its beautifully perplexing representation of time and space. These aspects are what make the film so entertaining and stunning to watch decades later—they give purpose to Kon’s signature smooth yet disorientating match-cut transitions. But more than anything, what immediately stood out to me was the film’s depiction of deteriorating mental health.
When I made my boyfriend watch Perfect Blue for the first time, he immediately noted when shit started to go downhill by saying, “Wow, she just needs some mental health help.” What makes the movie so powerful is the detail spent in the beginning building up Mima as a relatable, normal girl, despite her position as a pop idol and actress. Right off the bat, you want to empathize with her because she is innocent, sweet and well-intentioned. It makes the film all the more difficult to digest because it’s an hour and a half of watching Mima descend deeper into madness. Once it starts, you never receive relief—it builds and builds until the end.
Perfect Blue’s effective illustration of mental health isn’t merely shown in scenes of Mima screaming underwater in a bathtub or sobbing violently on her bed. It is in the way Mima acts outside of her private space and in the public eye, especially in front of the camera. She is incredibly bubbly and happy—she has to be, for the sake of her career. This is most notable after she films a rape scene on her television show. The actual scene in the film is extremely unnerving and discomforting because of its violence and realism. It makes Mima’s youthful bubbliness in front of her acting agent directly after filming all the more dissonant. As soon as she is home, however, she falls apart.
Her decision and ability to feign being fine are dependent on the media. Many use social media to portray a different, better version of themselves too. Near the end of the film, Mima has to rely on the blog to tell her what she did the day before because she is a floating shell of herself, no longer sure of what is real, where reality and media stop blurring. Even today, the reality some people wish to see in social media begins to dictate their decisions and actions in real life in hopes of achieving the reality depicted online.
To me, the most relatable aspect of Perfect Blue is how restrained and secret Mima is about her mental health. Even at her darkest moments, she never confides in anyone about her concerns and feelings. The only person she does somewhat confide in is Rumi, who ironically turns out to have been betraying her.
Rumi completely orchestrates Mima’s madness and depression. Even though Mima does not necessarily suffer depression naturally as a mental illness like others do, Perfect Blue still shows how the mind can be poked and prodded—and how mental health can unravel until it is completely undone.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-arts/perfect-blue-perfectly-depicts-the-blues/.