The year is 1997, the internet is still in its infancy and the world is a much more disconnected place. Up steps Perfect Blue, which is largely considered to be a masterpiece in Satoshi Kon's impressive body of work (alongside Parpika, Millenium Actress and Tokyo Godfather's to name but a few). The impact is such that his legacy is sealed forever as one of anime's finest ever directors and, according to many, Perfect Blue is the perfect anime.
However, how does it hold up in today's more connected era? I watched Perfect Blue last week to see how it had dated, nearly 25 years after the film's initial release. Interestingly, it seems that Perfect Blue has held up wonderfully and is now more relevant than ever. In fact, you could argue that it is more appropriate than ever before. Why? In short, the themes of isolation, paranoia and confusion seem like the ideal fit in 2021.
Taking Perfect Blue on face value
Let's go over the plot for the uninitiated; the star of the anime is Mima Kirigoe, a member of a Japanese idol pop group called CHAM!. With ambitions of more, she eventually leaves the group to pursue an acting career.
Mima performing with CHAM!
During this transition, she loses her innocence and also her sanity. Without revealing too much of the plot, Perfect Blue relies on showing glimpses from Mima's perspective alongside what we view as the audience. This technique is generally under-utilized in film and keeps viewers on the edge of the seats throughout. Is she genuinely going crazy, or is there a sinister conspiracy going on?
Life mimics art
Supposedly, you can tell if a piece of art is considered 'good' when it is mimicked by life. Sadly, this is what has happened time and time again with idol-singers in the Kpop industry. Specifically, I'm talking about the taboo issue of suicide, which JPop can never seem to shed. Despite its clean-cut image, often the stars of JPop are controlled by dominant managers and some are even driven to suicide. Why does this happen? Usually, it's a deadly combination of a grueling work schedule and loneliness - the case of Honoka Oomoto in 2018 was shocking, though historically not unheard of - Yukiko Okada also famously committed suicide in 1986 and spawed a slew of copycat suicides (labelled Yukiko Syndrome) so the problem was not a new one in Japan. Most recently Japanese actress Yuko Takeuchi took her own life in October last year, so despite the issues being known, they do not seem to have been overcome. Whilst Mima never attempted suicide, she was certainly lonely and clearly disliked her role as a celebrity.
In this sense, Perfect Blue was both aware of these issues and ahead of its time in showing a destructive celebrity culture. It's crazy to think that Perfect Blue was released nearly 25 years ago, and whilst it's easy to see these problems in modern-day, you have to give Kon credit where it's due. He was clearly on the pulse when it came to looking at societal issues and future problems.
How hashtags can decide the fate of the modern celebrity
Whether you're for or against her, the recent situation of Gina Carano eerily echoes the fate of Mima in Perfect Blue. In one scene, Mima's stalker writes about her on an internet forum. Here, he tries to tarnish her reputation and does so whilst alone in his dark room. Whilst the term 'trolling' has become commonplace in recent years, back in 1997 this was relatively unheard of. Looking at the case of Carano, her views attracted much criticism until the hashtag fireginacarano was trending on Twitter until she was sacked by Disney. This was purportedly because of her retweet alleging that alleged manipulation of media against some current-day political beliefs and parties was similar to tactics employed by the National Socialist party against the Jews prior to World War II.
The point isn't whether Carano was in the right or wrong, it's to show the power of a hashtag on social media and how it can change the narrative. Even more dramatic, it shows how group think can quickly end the career of almost any celebrity. Returning to Perfect Blue, once more it shows how the movie successfully predicted the way social media could be weaponised as well as the constant spotlight that celebrities would live under. In Perfect Blue we can see the psychological effects of such pressure on the individual.
Influencing Black Swan
It's no secret that Black Swan is widely believed to have been influenced by Perfect Blue, though the director Darren Aronofsky has denied this. The film roughly follows the plot of Perfect Blue and follows the descent into madness of Nina Sayers (portrayed by Natalie Portman). Many fans claim that even some of Swan's camera angles were directly taken from Perfect Blue! Black Swan went on to become critically acclaimed and was (arguably) the first major live-action adaptation of an anime film in the west (Guyver in 1991 and Speed Racer in 2008 had far more material available to draw from than a single film). What is not in dispute is that Aronfsky's reason for purchasing the remake rights to Perfect Blue was so that he could legally replicate a specific scene from Kon's film in Requiem for a Dream shot-for-shot. Satoshi Kon's masterwork has proven both artistically influential worthy of reproducing for different audiences.
Comparing Requiem for a Dream with Perfect Blue, courtesy of ProfessorMustard
While Black Swan certainly isn't the greatest movie, it's still unique and considered an unusual film. It's odd to think that such a film was thrust into the mainstream and so gladly accepted. This was released in 2010 in the age of re-makes and Marvel reboots, so it proved there was an audience for real story-telling and character development. For many, the blueprint was provided by Satoshi Kon.
Showing isolation in a technological age
One of the key themes in Perfect Blue is the isolation of Mima, who is successful yet lives in a tiny flat, and apparently has no real friends. Not only this, but her life is somewhat controlled by her manager... again this is also mimicked in Black Swan. As mentioned in the beginning, this was made in 1997 and since then, you could argue that isolation is a more relevant theme than ever. It's no secret that statistically, depression and loneliness have risen over the past decade which further adds to the point. Did Perfect Blue predict a future society based on internet-dominance? Maybe it wasn't a deliberate prediction, but it seems that way, and it has certainly been accelerated thanks to worldwide lockdowns in the last year.
The original internet troll
One scene that particularaly speaks to the internet age was that of Mima receiving trolling emails from her stalker. Even though this person is not as successful as her, they could still contact her directly through the internet. It seems that trolling is very much a modern-day problem. Of course, stalkers have existed long before the internet, but the ease access into people's personal lives and teh ability to criticise publicly is easier than ever.
Perfect Blue, a legacy redefined?
At the time, Perfect Blue was lauded as a psychological thriller. To this day, it's fair to agree that it is indeed that. Yet I would argue that the film should also be identified as a horror. It may not be a horror in the stereotypical sense of murders and blood, nor does it have a paranormal aspect, but fear and anxiety are writ large in Perfect Blue, even if some is of a fairly abstract nature.
The depressing thing about looking at a classic film that recognises these societal issues is that nothing has changed - the film is still a mirror to modern-society and shows the pitfalls of technology and isolation. The true horror here is that these are themes and fears we can all relate to, and there's not much that is scarier than that.
Tom is a keen anime enthusiast who began watching it as a child with Dragon Ball Z. Since then he has developed a taste for writing and these days his favorite show is Attack on Titan. In his spare time he can be found either writing short stories or watching anime.