Written by Himanshu Thakur
Loud cheers erupt from the crowd, cameras click and clack, and a fashion show begins. Just as a model catwalks by, you hear a terrifying scream. The whole scene shifts. You hear the cameras again but it’s the police taking photos now and you find yourself looking at a woman’s dead body. You wince a bit, trying to get your thoughts together. But before you do, the perspective shifts, only to reveal that you’ve just been looking through a camera shooting a film scene. None of this was real. You’re left disoriented and the feeling of being unsure of what just happened starts to sink in. That would be because you’re just twenty minutes into Satoshi Kon’s psychological thriller anime film – Perfect Blue.
The movie follows the life of Kirigoe Mima, a Japanese pop idol and singer as she goes through a period of transition in her life when she quits being an idol to become a full-time actress. Things begin to go terribly wrong when her acting career steers in a direction she had never wanted it to. Slowly, regret at leaving her idol days behind starts to seep in; all the while she gets constantly stalked by a fan obsessed with the image of ‘pop-idol Mima’. Under extreme stress and constant paranoia, Mima’s psyche begins to split in half. As the madness magnifies, the imagery becomes more and more surreal, and soon the lines between what’s real and what’s thought begin to blur.
This is the narrative thread Perfect Blue spins and it does so through Satoshi Kon’s masterful direction. The entire movie is punctuated and given life through his brilliant use of perspective and cinematography. Kon uses a series of fast yet seamless cuts to constantly change perspectives, disorienting the viewer (as the opening para shows). One scene melts into another and what’s real and what’s in Mima’s head, all become inextricably tied in one unsettling yet fascinating knot.
Throughout the movie, Kon utilizes mirrors and reflections to depict the duality and dissension of Mima’s psyche with itself. When the mental turmoil within Mima begins, she starts imagining her past pop-idol persona as a real and separate entity, constantly taunting and belittling her. In fact, a reflection is where we first meet this Virtual Mima. But as her stress and paranoia accumulate, she becomes free of being just a thought, just a reflection. She jumps out of the screen and into Mima’s world. The illusion starts to live in the realm of the real as Kon deftly builds upon his grand metaphor.
Kon’s surreal cinematic scenes are made all the more chilling through Masahiro Ikumi’s brilliantly haunting soundtrack. By leaving conventional harmony for jarring and dissonant sounds Ikumi personifies madness in his music. It’s haunting, yet it keeps drawing you to itself. Like an unfinished anxious itch that doesn’t let go. As the movie goes on, the eerie paranoia builds up, till you, along with Mima, find yourself in a nightmare.
This 1998 anime film asks the question – How much of your public persona do you own and how much of it do you actually control? This is a question that’s more relevant now in the age of social media than ever before. It predicted two decades ago, much of how we now perceive online celebrities and public presence. It’s a movie that explores what it feels like to truly lose control over your persona and self-image, and it does so with disturbing finesse. Truly a brilliant, relevant must-watch.
This is a movie not only for anime fans but for movie lovers in general. Its themes are timelessly intriguing, its presentation surreal and immaculate, and in all of that, it stands as just an 80-minute commitment. So, whenever you feel like stepping away from the usual to experience something truly unique and thought-provoking, take a trip down anime lane and give this one a shot. Your only regret will be you didn’t do so sooner.