You know the phrase: “We live in a society?”
It’s become somewhat of a meme at this point, but it’s not untrue. We do live in a society with lots of ingrained rules, values, and standards. Now more than ever, standards of beauty and celebrity culture are under great scrutiny. This means that we are now a lot of stories surrounding this theme.
But in 1997, Perfect Blue was already using these ideas to craft a message about the pressure of perfection, the difficulties of facing failure, the dangers of idol culture, and the blurring lines of fiction and reality. Revolving around Mima, a former pop idol pursuing a career in acting, the psychological thriller film records her descent into paranoia as she deals with the stress of her career change alongside the realization that she’s being stalked. Her stalker runs a webpage called “Mima’s Room,” which reads as a diary of Mima’s life, and Mima becomes obsessed with reading it as she begins to feel guilt and regret about leaving her pop idol group. Her mental state only worsens as a series of gruesome murders happen on the set of the drama she’s filming and her dreams and memories become muddled until she begins to doubt her innocence in the crimes.
Perfect Blue is a timeless film because of how it handles these messages, especially in terms of Mima’s treatment as a celebrity, the identity of the killer, and the way it handles Mima’s paranoia. These are the three pillars to the central themes: the critiques of celebrity culture and consumerism and the struggles of identity. They’re also what helps Perfect Blue remain a wonderful example of the psychological thriller genre.
When the film was released, the internet was just starting to become commonplace. This plays a central role in Mima’s experience with fame and her identity. It’s how she comes in contact with “Mima’s Room,” which alters her perception of herself and the world around her. She has no sense of privacy due to this webpage, which records her every move and consistently reminds her that she is not who she used to be, that the “idol Mima” is who she really is. This is the price of her celebrity status; she is subject to the scrutiny of the public eye, and she isn’t owed a private life anymore due to her fame. This is one aspect of the movie that still very much rings true today. With the prevalence of social media and the constant stream of information regarding famous individuals, there’s a breakdown of the healthy relationship between fans and celebrities. Though the film takes place before this rise, it was almost prophetic in its understanding of how celebrity culture would evolve.
There’s also the way Mima’s boundaries are constantly pushed and redrawn by her profession. This lends to both her treatment as a celebrity and her sense of identity; as an idol, it was her job to remain pure for her fans, which meant being perfectly clothed, perfectly behaved, and seemingly innocent. However, as an actress, she’s expected to build a different image. This is best shown when Mima is asked to perform a sex scene for the drama she’s in. She’s clearly uncomfortable with the idea, but she goes along with it, and eventually this leads to her doing suggestive photo shoots. She’s told this is how she will build her name as an actress. So, she goes along with it despite it being detrimental to her mental health. Even today, these are issues people face when trying to find fame, or even in everyday life. We are forced to make compromises and sacrifices to our own comfort in order to get ahead because that’s how we’re told life is. These are the things that shape our identities, and Perfect Blue had a firm grasp on this.
Another impressive part of the movie is its storytelling when it comes to revealing the killer and true identity of Mima’s stalker. It’s a slow reveal; from the beginning, as an audience, we’re redirected and asked to put our attention on Me-Mania, a man that seems to follow Mima everywhere she goes. Of course, he looks like we’d expect a stalker to, but we eventually learn his strings are being pulled by someone else. That person is Rumi, a friend of Mima’s and a failed idol that sees herself as the “real” Mima, who represents that life of an idol she wanted so desperately. Upon the first viewing of the film, it’s difficult to see any signs that point to Rumi as the culprit of the murders and stalking; it often takes a second viewing to be able to see the clues, such as Rumi being vehemently against anything that would tarnish Mima’s perceived pure image. In this sense, Perfect Blue remains relevant as a fantastic psychological thriller and mystery.
Of course, a central focus in the film is Mima’s developing psychosis. This brought on by a number of factors, including her regret and guilt about her career change, her growing paranoia about being watched, and her growing inability to understand what’s happening around her as the murders mimic the show she’s acting in. This leads to sleep disruption and memory lapses; she feels completely disconnected with reality and worries that she may be the one responsible for the murders, that there really are two Mimas. This struggle with identity and reality is something that has been increasingly common with the rise of the internet and the constant stream of media people have become accustomed to. Ultimately, this is something Perfect Blue aimed to comment upon; there has to be a boundary between people that keeps them from this downfall, but as that boundary gets harder and harder to maintain, it becomes more difficult to prevent these feelings of paranoia. It’s a message that becomes more and more relevant with each passing day.
Overall, Perfect Blue is a film that still has great value today. It was quite ahead of its time with its depiction of the internet and the way it could lead to the erosion of privacy and personal boundaries, and its commentary on celebrity culture is still relevant today, especially as social media makes it easier to follow and connect with famous people. It’s also a truly essential entry to the psychological thriller genre that contains impressive storytelling and uses themes of mental health, identity, and the blurring of fiction and reality in a way that feels realistic. It’s a movie you should watch at least once, even if you aren’t into anime – it’s quite the underrated classic.