Twenty years on from its initial release, the late Satoshi Kon’s debut feature still dazzles and disturbs like few other films. This tale of Mima (Junko Iwao), a young pop singer turned aspiring actress whose mind begins to unravel under the strain of both exploitative people and a medium that encourages it, carries extra resonance today with the recent revelations regarding historic abuse from powerful men in Hollywood.
Kon was a remarkable filmmaker, and Perfect Blue is a showcase of his approach to animation. In the opening ten minutes alone the film frequently cuts between points in time, utilising editing to create a temporal landscape unlike a vast amount of his contemporaries, where scenes overlap and interfere with one another. It’s an intriguing method of introducing the audience to the tone of the film, as this style of fusing scenes together to confuse the nature of reality would also be built upon in later works of his (most notably Paprika in 2006), and plays a key role in presenting Mima’s world in this film becoming increasingly fractured and disjointed.
What could be summarised as a fairly simplistic tale of a young woman being pursued by a stalker festers into something far more sinister, as Mima, in her desire to reach the top of her chosen field, agrees to practices and scenes presented by powerful individuals without considering the mark it may leave. One in particular is of Mima agreeing to a rape scene, the haunting presentation of which draws uneasy parallels with Maria Schneider’s recounting of Last Tango in Paris, and the abuse she suffered at the hands of Marlon Brando and Bernardo Bertolucci. Later, Mima takes part in a photoshoot with a photographer known for persisting in getting his models to strip naked.
The film does not sugar-coat these scenarios. These scenes are formidable watching. Later we see Mima grappling with these decisions; the regret, the anger, the shame in herself. The plot thread centred Mima’s stalker and the slow deterioration of her sense of self is still the dominant narrative of the film, and it remains a taut and engaging psychological thriller to this day. Uchida (also known as Mr Me-Mania) begins as a fan that cannot accept Mima’s change from fluffy pop starlet to dramatic actress, and gradually this warps into obsession, a feeling of betrayal that Mima’s new career is in some way an affront to him. As Mima loses her own grip on reality, Uchida himself becomes increasingly enamoured in his own fantasy world, justifying numerous horrifying actions to himself in the process.
This obsession works in tandem with the abuses Mima suffers from hegemonic power. The objectification is fierce: To some she is their perfect pop princess, to others a rookie actress that can be convinced into performing inappropriate material, and to some little more than an object to lust after. Mima works in an industry that revolves around presenting the audience with an image, a facsimile of a human being. The issue with presenting that image is that it is possible to become lost within it, which is precisely what happens to Mima.