Perfect Blue: A Twisted Take on Pop Idol Culture

Title: Perfect Blue (1997)
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Running Time: 1 hour and 21 minutes
Director: Satoshi Kon
Production Company: Madhouse

The Perfect Blue is an adaptation of the 1991 novel, Perfect Blue: Kanzen Hentai by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Receiving the awards Best Asian Film and Best Animation Film in the 1997 Fant-Asia Film Festival held in Montreal, it was a directorial debut for Satoshi Kon who was noticed by Madhouse’s co-founder, Masao Maruyama, after taking interest in an episode that he directed for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

The protagonist, Kirigoe Mima, is a member of a J-pop idol group called CHAM! After spending two years as an idol, she announced in their last concert together that she will be “graduating” from the group to pursue an acting career. While her announcement received mixed responses from their fans, Mima sincerely hoped that they would continue to support her in this new path.

Things take a turn as Mima was cast in a crime drama series, Double Bind. Together with her agency and her manager, Hidaka Rumi, they struggle to make a break in her acting career and break off from her pop idol image. And as if it wasn’t taxing enough, a fan obsessed with “Mima The Pop Idol” and despises “Mima The Actress” starts stalking her while an anonymous website that details her daily life shows up on the internet. All of these while seeing that CHAM! is doing okay without her, Mima struggles to keep up with the drastic changes in herself and her environment.

The film dives into the controversial topic of “idol” culture where “idols” are forced to either maintain or create a brand-new image, sometimes to their disadvantage, to appeal to their fans. In the film, “Mima the pop idol” was someone who greatly enjoys performing and is very accommodating of her fans. On the other hand, “Mima the actress” was someone who found her career taxing, making her openly agree to every opportunity while secretly despising herself for doing so. With conflicting actions and emotions plus the pressure from her agency and fans who like her a certain way, Mima is now torn on who she is and what she wants.

The story expertly uses linear and nonlinear ways of progressions plus short-time jumps to show this confusion. It could be quite disorienting at first but as the story progresses, you’ll realize that it was the intention in the first place. You see things happen from Mima’s perspective. You feel the lines blurring between what is real and unreal. By the film’s last act, you are now just as confused as Mima. 

What makes the film more relatable is its choice of character designs. The year it was released could be a factor but throughout the film, the characters feel more real without the exaggerated body proportions and hairstyles as we commonly see in anime today. Everyone looks normal and is not overly stylized. The animation also focuses more on fluidity. From the character to camera movements, each scene flows smoothly to the next and sometimes, with intentions of distortions in between. The art style could feel nostalgic for some old-time anime fans who loved the feels of retro Japan.

The film’s color palette is also something to take note of. Despite its title being The Perfect Blue, red was the prevailing color throughout the entire film. By the beginning of the film, Mima is seen wearing CHAM!’s pink costume with touches of red in certain scenes. Palettes would also lean more on the neutral or cooler sides. As the story moves forward, red becomes more striking and menacing. This shows the direct relation of the color red to Mima’s deteriorating mental state and confusion. This could be attributed to the color meanings in Japanese culture. Red represents powerful emotions while blue means purity and cleanliness.

23 years after its first release, the film remains significant until the present day. It became a trailblazer that inspired films like Black Swan (2010) and Requiem for a Dream (2000). Mima’s struggles as an idol and as a young woman living in the 1990s is still the same struggle faced by an idol and a young woman in 2021. Truly, a successful film is one that was able to transcend its technique and story through time.

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