Production: Madhouse | Runtime: 1hr 21 mins
Director: Satoshi Kon | Available to Watch: DVD, Blu-Ray
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
- Nelson Mandela
Idols are of a cultural significance to Japan. Dating back to the mid-20th century, young people are given the opportunity to become entertainers & perform on a public platform, showcasing their singing & performing arts skills. Much like celebrities figures or popular musicians in the West, some are manufactured in regards to their appearance & personality, to try & win the hearts of the general public. They are presented with a spotless aura of innocence & often will attempt to establish a strong, emotional connection with their fans. On the surface, it appears like a land of opportunity; to be loved and recognised nationally (and potentially, globally) for your talent. The stark reality is that it's a business.
Idols are used as a marketing tool to promote entertainment in exchange for a person’s attention, interest, devotion and their money. Idols generate approximately $1 billion annually, but the dark side of this industry is the idols themselves are often placed under authoritarian rule. They are required to live under very strict & busy lifestyles; working long hours with little time off, asked to attend events at a moment’s notice, banned from dating & meeting up with certain people, even marriage is required to be pre-approved by their agency.
The reason for this is because agencies rely on the success of idols in order to make money. If there is any reason for fans to suspect that an idol is favouring a single person above them or indirectly portrayed as trying to break the connection they share with them, they can be dropped in a blink of an eye. It makes you question if the idol-fan bond is actually more fragile than it appears. To shock you further, agencies have previously filed lawsuits against idols on the grounds that their actions caused a decline in interest by fans, leading to financial damages. Seriously? This type of cancel culture is on the rise & I find it rather toxic, especially when the reasons for doing so are often minuscule.
All of this context is essential, in order to me to explain the narrative of the film I will be discussing today; a psychological horror that focuses on these dark traits within idol culture, exploring the life of a singer as she attempts to escape her idol status & the impact this can have for everyone involved. For the first time ever, we will be reviewing not just a film, but an anime as well, as we take a look at the 1997 animated feature, produced by studio Madhouse & directed the late Satoshi Kon; Perfect Blue.
The film’s plot focuses around the life of a pop idol named Mima Kirigoe. After gaining minor success singing for the J-Pop group “CHAM!”, she announces at a live event that she’ll be leaving the group in her pursuit to become an actress. This comes as a disappointment to her fans & while it does seem like a risky decision, Mima luckily has the support of her agent, Tadokoro, and her long-time manager & former idol, Rumi Hidaka. Thanks to their efforts, they are able to secure Mima a minor role in a detective-based TV show named Double Bind.
As things start to pick up, Mima begins to receive anonymous threats following her announcement. The first comes in the form of an fax sent to her home; labelling her as a traitor. These warnings begin to escalate in more dangerous & violent ways, affecting the people around her. Mima also uncovers a disturbing website called "Mima's Room"; a fan site dedicated to her. The site includes diary posts that describe her day-to-day life, but what’s concerning is that the entries are surprisingly accurate in detail.
Later on, the show’s producer wants to cast Mima in a distressing situation. Whilst she reluctantly chooses to accept this, it proves to be rather traumatic for her, putting her into a fragile mental state. With the prospect of a stalker accelerating their acts of violence, the escalation of her anxieties & as she begins to separate herself from reality, the sum of all these elements creates a storm of fear & distress that slowly cripples Mima’s mentality, leading to an eventual climax that could permanently impact her life.
The themes expressed in this movie cover a range of different perceptions & topics, of there are two I would like to personally dissect. First, we see the effects of Celebrity Worship Syndrome.
We’ve seen examples of intense fandoms around the world & in history; with music groups such as One Direction, BTS & even The Beatles. Unless a celebrity chooses to disclose elements of their personal life, this line of privacy is to be respected. Here, we see the obsession of a fan so disgruntled by Mima's choices that they choose to cross this line and attempt to scare her into going back to their idol persona; in order to satisfy their own needs. The impression I got from the antagonist is that they feel their connection has been broken and Mima’s actions are tarnishing her reputation, but they still feel so strongly that they feel the need to intervene; by any means.
It becomes evident that their efforts need to be pushed to the extreme, acting as a sobering reminder of how CWS can be very dangerous for all parties involved. The film does a good job at showing us how far someone can go & effectively discourage this by depicting this in a horrifying fashion. I often find that the horrors based in reality are often darker than those in fiction. The mere potential of this occurring is a brutal warning that chilled me to the bone.
Second, the films analyses the perception & pressures of being an idol. As discussed in my intro, you’ll have an overall impression of the standards idols must have, in order to remain successful. Mima’s decision to move into acting is actually quite a common one when they wish to transition from an idol into a professional. However, it’s evident that through the opportunities she’s presented, people are still fixated on her being an idol & try to take advantage of her. As a result, Mima is in a state of conflict. She wants to be successful as an actress but as she’s green to the industry, she doesn’t want to turn down opportunities in case it closes off other opportunities.
In addition, she accepts these opportunities as a means to try and escape this perception of her being an idol. She’ll do anything to be treated as a professional & we see this conflict play out when Mima is alone. We’re able to see first hand her true thoughts, which i thought she was able to conceal publicly likely due to her experience as a public performer. This is further compounded by the stalker’s threats & her own anxieties when she finds out the successes of her former group since her departure. She is overwhelmed, unable to escape, which leads to the decline in her mental state when she questions her idol self, representing her own internal struggles.
I feel there is a lot of Mima’s character that could be perceived in different ways. For myself, it was heart-breaking to see Mima’s situation escalate the way it does & it acts a cold reminder of how almighty an idol’s perception is treated; to the point where it’s considered more worthy than the human being behind it. Mima is simply seeking liberation; she wants to break free from her former self & be able to make her own choices without being profiled, threatened or vilified.
Finally, the film stirs other healthy questions & debates. For me, my main concerns I acknowledged were with the safeguarding of idols. I was asking myself what measures are in place, are the idols informed of what to do & why weren’t the authorised involved. Whilst unfortunately, I was not accustomed to this industry at the time of its release, I can’t tell if this movie was acting as a statement to actively encourage talks on protecting idols. I would like to think that this has improved over 20+ years, but I couldn’t find much evidence in my own personal research apart from a few news reports. Take this with a pinch of salt & I’m happy to be reached out, if anyone knows anything. This matter has peaked my attention.
One of the trivial things the film warns is of the dangers of the Internet. Mima’s Room is a perfect example of identity theft, spreading false information & at a stretch, an early version of catfishing (if you remove the romantic part). I would argue that the nature of Internet security has been taken more seriously with the advances & popularity of the Internet but still, it’s interesting to see this being shown as a possibly 23 years ago; when the Internet was in its infancy & on a classic Mac computer too.
One of the movie's greatest assets is its ability to present Mima's mental struggles in visual form. Watching this film for the first time was an interesting experience, as certain scenes flowed into each other & at points, it didn't make logical sense. On reflection, I was able to acknowledge that this was Satoshi Kon's intention. You'd question what's going on, just like Mima does, and I felt the way it presented her perception of events helped me to establish a connection with her which I found quite ironic, given she was a former idol. Kon's directing skills are able to blur the lines of reality & fantasy, whilst allowing the plot to progress unharmed. This is a skill I very much acknowledged, appreciated & seems
From a presentation standpoint, the film uses the traditional form of Cel animation. For those who are used to the high-definition standards of modern anime productions may notice the difference in visual quality with some moments of slow frame-rate & reduced animations for background characters and distant shots. However, for a film where each frame was drawn by hand, I can appreciate it due to the efforts that were made. Besides, it’s still a gorgeous film that use a contrasted colour palette with some seamless scene transitions. If I am completely honest, it was rarely noticeable by myself once I got heavily invested in the plot & as an overall piece, I think at the time Madhouse did a great job.
The movie's soundtrack is very complementary, using a combination of J-Pop tracks (a given since it features idols), which are offset with some disturbing numbers that help amplify some of the more unsettling moments. One of my favourite tracks sounded like an industrial tone that gradually increased in volume into silence; strong Silent Hill vibes there. I primarily watched this in the English dub & switched between the Japanese audio every now & then. I found both sides to be very good in terms of their performances. The only noticeable English cast member I acknowledged was that of Wendee Lee (Cowboy Bebop, Haruhi Suzumiya), of which I personally enjoyed her use of a more serious tone when portraying her character, Rumi Hidaka. Overall, the sound was effective & I have no complaints.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Its tension-filled journey certainly made me question myself, in terms of its visual presentation & its subject matter. It was interesting to see the film blurring the lines of reality to represent Mima’s state & to promote thought-provoking questions; all whilst balancing its multiple subplots to create a tense, psychological experience that you can't help but continue watching. Its realistic premise only adds more weight behind its events & Mima's character was very much a highlight. Her complex range of thoughts and emotions were intriguing to interpret, which made me emotionally investable in her journey.
My only gripes with the movie were that the ending sequences felt a bit anticlimactic for my taste & there wasn't a lot of emphasis on the movie's supporting cast, which could've been used to better effect. There is also a lot of room for personal interpretation, which could be seen as a turn-off but I would argue that from an entertainment standpoint, it was entertaining, well-crafted & featured a plot brimmed with suspense.
Perfect Blue is a thought-provoking journey that portrays the effects of obsession & perception surrounding idols & their fandom. There are elements & discussions included in this movie that are ahead of their time & pulled off effectively in my eyes. I appreciated the depth of its plot, to the point I feel there’s still more messages in this movie to interpret & will find great pleasure in re-watching it for this reason. It's certainly one of the top-tier anime productions I've experienced in the horror genre.
If you are thinking of obtaining a physical copy, I recommend finding a copy of the 2015 or 2019 AllTheAnime releases on DVD or Blu-Ray. I found these to be the best versions, in terms of visual quality & its presentation in widescreen. This is opposed to the original DVD release, which is in standard 4:3 & the visual quality is quite poor. Avoid the original release if you can.