Despite coming out three full years before the turn of the century, Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is laced with poignant social commentary —the majority of which remains as relevant as ever— tackling issues such as femininity and objectification, mental health, fanaticism, and more. While each of these issues is worthy of a thorough analysis of its own, I’m going to focus instead on perhaps the most visionary of Kon’s themes —that being the social avatars we create for ourselves and the point at which they seemingly take on a life of their own.
Throughout the film, pop idol turned rookie actress, Mima Kirigoe struggles to maintain her grasp on reality as she is continually coerced into more objectifying and dehumanizing roles by her agent in the name of making money. Feeling like she cannot say “no” due to “how hard everyone [has] worked” for her, she places her trust in their expertise and is instead led astray.
In trying to break from her pop idol “good girl” image as quickly as possible, Mima is pushed into a harrowing role on the TV series in which she’s only just debuted the previous week, one that will see her enact, in graphic detail, being raped in a strip club. The show’s narrative states that this incident, in turn, will fracture her character’s mind, leading her to develop dissociative personality disorder before committing a series of brutal murders. Mirroring the script, the drawn-out scene —which Kon, himself, later admitted “went too far”— additionally served to fracture Mima’s mind in the real world as well. In a lecture filmed 10 years after Perfect Blue’s release, Kon discussed the scene, stating that the trance-like state Mima enters during the simulated act served as the death of her former self, the pop idol. In this way, it’s the death of her innocence and the person she once was.
The next shot is Mima sitting quietly in a large, shared dressing room late that evening, presumably after everyone else has gone home. She’s wearing black, the color of mourning, and her head is bowed as if in prayer. The blocking of the shot focuses on her reflection in the mirror, though nothing is seen.
While our first glimpse of the “virtual” Mima —the former pop idol— occurs prior to the scene in question —a brief flash of defiance in her reflection in the window of the train— it’s only after this “death” that she becomes a malignant force in Mima’s life.
Perfect Blue explores the concept of self and whether its perception, be it through celebrity status or social construct is, in its own way, an extension of one’s self.
When Mima retires from music to pursue a career in acting, a small portion of her fanbase ridicule and harasses her, faxing unhinged letters to her apartment scrawled with the word “traitor,” and even sending a letter bomb disguised as fan mail to her on the set her first day of filming. Fanatical fans begged her to sing for them forever, and when she declined, in some part of her own volition, they instantaneously turned on and denounced her. For some, this dismissal of her career was the end of it. For others, the inability to accept her resignation from CHAM! created delusions of their own.
Just as Mima struggles with the hardships and traumas of her new career, these fans —specifically two individuals— lock onto the obsessive belief that Mima as they perceived her before was so perfect and wonderful that she would never do the things this imposter is doing now. As such, as her manager presses her into risquier and risquier roles, her stalkers’ actions escalate further, resulting in multiple murders along the way.
Eventually, the pair of stalkers, working in concert with one another, turn their attention to Mima herself. The motivation for this stems from the belief that she is not the real Mima but rather an imposter destroying her perfect image. In their minds, Mima is —or rather was— a masterpiece, but as she herself attempts to paint something new over the canvas that is her life, they refuse to yield their sense of ownership over the original work; the work being Mima’s actual life and career.
This phenomenon is seen today with Hollywood remakes and sequels to beloved classics like Ghostbusters and Star Wars. People develop a sense of attachment to various characters and stories and become resentful —even furious— when studios, in their assessment, betray those stories or characters. As divisive as the new Star Wars trilogy is, had Luke Skywalker’s actor himself, Mark Hamel, stated that he actually liked and approved of the films, the same fans who felt validated in their dislike of the new films based on the handling of his character would have turned against him, too.
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s wrong to be emotionally connected to stories or characters, though there is of course a limit that is taken too far when you begin targeting actors and actresses online and harassing them so mercilessly that they delete their social media accounts simply for having had the misfortune of staring in a particular film that served as a major career opportunity. Don’t do that.
Back to Perfect Blue.
A big part of Mima’s disassociative personality disorder is the loss of control over her own life and the internal struggle of knowing the things she’s being made to do aren’t things she actually wants to do. But as the ante is continually upped, moving from the club scene to an explicit nude photoshoot in a Hustler-esque publication, she fully loses her grip on reality as we see jarring cuts distract and confuse between days, dreams, and the show’s fiction —which as mentioned earlier, closely mirrors her life at this point.
As Mima’s virtual doppleganger struggles to take back control of her life, her detachment from her current self deepens by the day. Throughout the film, we see several instances of Mima reading from an online message board titled Mima’s Room. The message board, run by Mima’s second fanatical fan, includes a multitude of posts written from Mima’s perspective and includes intimate details about her life, including behind-the-scenes audio from her first day on the set of her television show, Double Bind.
Mima grows disturbed by the accuracy of these accounts over time, fearful someone is not only stalking her but impersonating her as they berate the individuals responsible for pressuring her into such explicit career maneuvers. Not so coincidentally, the targets of these posts’ aggression begin turning up dead as the film goes on.
Near the peak of Mima’s detachment from her own identity, she reads posts on the message board of things she didn’t even do and places she hadn’t even gone that day, but rather than dismiss it with a sigh of relief, she instead muses in a hollow voice, “I guess I went to Harajuku today…”
The visage of Mima’s pop idol self would continue to manifest as the film wore on, appearing in the backseat of passing cars in a tunnel, sitting amongst the other members of the suddenly more successful CHAM! at a local radio station, and even in Mima’s room (the actual room, not the site), after which she playfully skipped out the window and across several street lamps. No one else would ever see this ghost of Mima’s past but the derangement of each obsessive fan would channel the same spirit of the pop idol, with the second murder being carried out in brutal detail as, seemingly, Mima herself guts the magazine photographer from her smutty shoot.
Given Mima’s psychological break by this point in the film, it wouldn’t be out of the question that she may have lashed out at the photographer who robbed her of the last shred of innocence she possessed. However, given the assailant disguises themselves as a pizza delivery person before savagely attacking and stabbing the photographer repeatedly with a screwdriver, and the fact that the photographer didn’t recognize the person before the attack, it’s clear it was someone he wasn’t familiar with rather than the subject whom he had not only just photographed days prior but was actively reviewing photos of minutes earlier.
At this point we’re fully into spoilers, so here’s your last chance to stop reading if you don’t want to know the ending prior to watching the film for yourself.
After Mima is attacked on the set of her show by Mr. Me-Mania (her male fanatical fan) appearing to kill him in the process, she is taken “to Mima’s room” by her manager and friend, even somewhat a maternal figure in Rumi. When Mima awakes after her ordeal, she’s seemingly back in her room, but she notices the fish in the fish tank are still alive, while all but two of hers mysterious died days earlier.
When she looks out the window, she realizes she’s in a different part of the city from her apartment. It’s at this point Rumi steps into the room in full pop idol attire. Her visage is that of the pop idol Mima, but her reflection in the mirror shows it’s the older, more stout Rumi.
It’s at this point everything becomes clear. Mr. Me-Mania, a frequent peruser of Mima’s Room, accepted the idea that the real Mima was in fact an imposter, gradually convinced by ongoing correspondence with Rumi, who had emailed him as Mima and grooming him to get rid of the “imposter.” We then cut to the bodies of Mr. Me-Mania, with one eye stabbed out, and Mima’s agent, Mr. Tadokoro, who had mentioned earlier that night to Rumi that he’d already secured another big role for Mima, though it would require her to do some “smuttier” scenes.
So why would Rumi kill Mr. Me-Mania after his encounter with Mima moments before? I think it’s because he’d gone beyond Rumi’s instructions and attempted to have his way with Mima before killing her, giving her the opportunity to grab a blunt object and bludgeon him before escaping.
The scene prior to the photographer’s death showed us a completely mentally frayed Mima who was unable to make sense of what was real and what was a dream. While visiting with Rumi for the first time in weeks, she shatters a teacup in her hands and then, starring blankly at the pouring blood, questions if it’s even real. I mentioned earlier that Rumi has severed as an almost maternal figure of sorts to Mima over the past two and a half years of her professional career. As such, I believe her protective instincts kicked in and, at least to some degree, overrode the obsessive fan/split personality of the virtual Mima she now believed herself to be.
After seeing the terrible state Mima was in, she proceeded to kill the photographer and then later killed Mr. Me-Mania for overstepping her instructions and making her relive the moment that psychologically broke Mima in the first place. Ditto, in fact, for Rumi herself, who had been on set watching as the scene was filmed before bursting into tears and running out of the room. For a time, she would disappear from the film and, not so coincidentally, the details of Mima’s Room would suddenly become less accurate, though Mima herself couldn’t tell due to her own disassociation of self.
After a harrowing chase in which Mima essentially tricks Rumi into nearly gutting herself on a large shard of broken glass in a window display, Mima saves Rumi from an oncoming truck. In the subsequent scene, we see Mima visiting Rumi at a mental institution where a doctor explains that “sometimes the Rumi persona does make an appearance,” but the implication is that the delusions of being Mima the pop idol remain. The doctor says Rumi may return fully someday but he’s not sure, to which a visibly older, more mature Mima responds, “No, I know I’ll never see her again. Either way, it’s because of her that I am who I am today.”
Another curious line follows, in which Mima walks back to her car and passes two nurses. They speculate if she’s actually Mima Kirigoe and what would someone like that be doing in such a place. At that, the nurse who first recognized her muses “Maybe she’s just a look alike.”
Mima then gets into her car, adjusts the rearview mirror and smiles a big pop idol smile at her reflection and says “Nope, I’m real.”
This ending is brilliant in its open-ended nature which invites interpretation. From the suddenly “perfect blue” sky above, the only time after her mind fragments that we see a clear sky, we can surmise that she’s made it through her struggles and come out safely on the other side —a stark contrast to Rumi who failed to escape the trap that is her past.
However there are those who believe the film’s ending is darker in nature. From the odd cheeriness to Mima’s voice, her curious comments to the doctor, and her reflection (symbolic in its own right), something seems amiss. Then there’s the curious decision to save Rumi in the first place, a woman who had been actively trying to murder her seconds earlier and had already twice stabbed her. In that final moment, before she saved her manager’s life, she saw her (Mima’s) pop idol self. Perhaps then, these people suggest, Mima did embrace the social avatar of her past, and that it was HER she was saving from the oncoming truck rather than Rumi.
Either interpretation is reasonable, depending on your mood or perspective, and I think that makes for a real strength in the narrative. To have a concrete ending when so much of the film has been the distortion of reality and fragmentation of identity would be less satisfying.
Regardless, whether Mima “owns” her own life or whether, as a public figure adored by a multitude of fans, she therefore lacks the right to choose for herself, Perfect Blue provides a deep examination of the self vs the avatars we create for ourselves. Are they one and the same, or is the avatar merely an amalgamation shaped by the perception of others?
As a pop idol, Mima obviously didn’t display any murderous or obsessive tendencies. The behavior of that visage, therefore, is channeling the toxicity and derangement of the worst of those within her fanbase, which we see as Mr. Me-Mania reads emails from (he believes) Mima in her cheerful pop idol voice she’d used whenever she was on stage with CHAM!
Mima’s social avatar took on a life of its own and fragmented her psyche as she struggled to reconcile the multiple traumas she was forced to endure and struggled to maintain her sense of self. That this corresponded with two crazed fans suffering their own breaks at the sight of her struggle, leading to four separate murders is simply an examination of the same illness from a different angle, creating a thoughtful, if at times uncomfortable, examination of self in the process.