Analysis of "Perfect Blue" (Pāfekuto Burū)
In 1997, the potential uses of the internet and social media seemed to be the order of the day, so speculations about an imminent hyperglobalization were common. The rising of celebrities and supermodels marked magazine covers, and the emerging musical industry in Japan was full of contrasts and contradictions. This whole context is compressed in Perfect Blue, where Satoshi Kon explores a pop star globbed up by the industry using a psychological point of view and a troubled atmosphere. Also, there are proper ideas from Baudrillard and Lipovestsky, portraying a postmodern society tore apart by consumption, appearances and media. The present text, published also in a Spanish version, analyzes these and other questions from Kon’s movie.
Fiction or reality? Perfect Blue: General Analysis of the Narrative Forms
To get started, we’ll try to unravel the structure that supports Perfect Blue (Pāfekuto Burū,Satoshi Kon, 1997) and try to indentify it with the phases that Vicente Benet recognizes in his book La cultura del cine: introducción a la historia y la estética del cine (2004). The phases are the following ones: the start and exposition (characterization of the main characters where their aims or conflicts are shown), development of the plot and the end, or resolution of the main conflict.
The movie counts with a powerful start, in which you can already appreciate what will be the main plot of the movie: The pressure that Mima Kirigoe (the main character) holds, produced by her last decision of leaving a musical career behind in order to work in acting. Mima is shown as a cheerful young girl, but also submissive when it comes to external agents [see Figure 1]. She is pressured by her family, her manager Rumi, and the discographic, among others. The decision is crucial for the particular psychological development of the ex-singer, object of study all across the film.
Another topic that is treated from the very beginning is the male violence held towards Mima. It is appreciated several times in the movie, in different forms and from different characters, which tend to be depicted with a disfigured, wicked expression. For instance, in the first scene already, Mima feels vulnerable towards his stalker’s eyesight. She’s also molested when she has to film shots depicting her rape, or during the nude photo session [see Figure 2, 3 and 4]. These projects contrast with what she was offered before abandoning music, when she was still innocent and her aims were much more pleasant.
The plot begins with Mima coming back to her home. A more “human” Mima is shown, with day-to-day scenarios that make us empathize with her (she uses the public transport, goes to the supermarket, feeds her fishes, and calls her mother). The first signs of madness appear when a suspicious fax and a call are received, and also when she finds a web where her deepest thoughts are written. This is the decisive moment, there’s a divergence between reality and fantasy. Progressively, the –now- actress enters in a spiral of delusions and hallucinations, which culminate making the viewer itself, question what’s real and what’s not. The whole plot unfolds around Mima’s paranoia, caused by the pressure of the industry and the anxiety linked to making the right choice.
Built by Mima’s imagination, her alter ego appears, wearing the clothing she used during Cham’s performances [see Figure 5]. The hallucination plays the role of Jiminy Cricket, but in a gore, obscure way. Also, it makes its appearances proportionally to the level of alienation, beginning with subtle reflections and ending with a thrilling persecution where the real Mima is chased.
The imaginary Mima represents the memory of the singer, the “what could have been” that gets stuck in her psyche, and also in the stalkers. They both, somehow, are trapped in the past.
The rhythm of the film escalates quickly as the time passes, and the plots go forward in a way that, in the final scenes, the spectator can barely tell what is real, what belongs to the TV series starring Mima, or what belongs to her imagination is.
The end is revealed after a violent persecution of Mima by her alter ego, who, eventually while running, transforms into Rumi, and vice-versa. The scene before the ending credits is decisive: after the incident, Mima visits Rumi in a mental hospital, then, she gets in her car, and looking at herself in the mirror, says “I’m real”. Because, after all, that’s the movie’s point: what has been real?
Mima by Herself: Découpage of a Representative Scene and Style
The scene I’m analyzing appears between the minutes 09:13 and 11:30, which corresponds to the moment when Mima comes back home after her last concert, and relaxes in her apartment while reading some letters from fans. This piece lasts 2 minutes, and is formed by 21 shots. There is no camera movement, therefore, it consists of a series of static images.
- 1: Extreme long shot of the neighborhood in Tokio.
- 2: Medium shot of Mima’s back; she enters her apartment, a dark place outside the street and social life. It might be a sign of what’s about to happen.
- 3: A close up of the fridge insides.
- 4: Long shot of the kitchen. It’s packed and small. Mima says that there’s a rotten cheese, making the spectator sympathizing with her and making her feel closer.
- 5 y 6: Bathroom close ups.
- 7: Desk’s close up. The pink envelop outstands, since there’s something important written inside
- 8: Fish bowl close up.
- 9: The profile angulation cuts the frame in half: A foreground image of Mima’s profile appears on the left. On the right there’s another perspective of the fishbowl. These last two shots (8 and 9) are important, because later it’s used as a referent to know if time has passed, or if it’s another room (there’s other kind of fishes, they are dead …).
- 10: Short medium shot where the protagonist is laying on her bed backwards.
- 11: Long shot of the packed room. Now we see Mima in relation to her space.
- 12: Close up of the loaded furniture.
- 13 y 14: Short shots of the room.
- 15: Subjective shot of Cham’s poster. The low angle used makes us see it from Mima’s point of view.
- 16: Medium shot of Mima, gloomily starring the poster.
- 17: American dorsal shot. She’s getting rid of the poster.
- 18: Long shot of the room, now from the TV point of view. Mima is about to read the letters.
- 19: Close up of the letters, focused on the pink one.
- 20: Foreground of the profile, disturbed by the content of the paper.
- 21: Long shot of the room, now from the perspective of the door. Mima watches intrigued through the window.
In general terms, the film has a realistic, simple animation, which contrasts with the standard 90s anime (with a higher level of iconicity, and much more ornamented and contrived). Perfect Blue is all about realism and day-to-day scenarios, which makes explicit parts much more triggering. The montage consists of an analytic edition, fragmented in multiple shots to represent the objects and the set up of the room, which is another way of exploring Mima’s personality.
When the magazine Sound and Vision interviewed Satoshi Kon, he declared that his ideas “come from ordinary day-to-day living, such as watching movies, reading books, listening to music, and talking with friends”.
The Use of Color in Perfect Blue
In the title of the movie, ‘blue’ can refer either to the psychological state Mima falls into, or to the meaning that this color has in Japanese culture, which stands for purity and the female energy that any Japanese idol tries to achieve.
Also, red is an important colour throughout the story: apart from denoting danger, the director uses it for measuring Mima’s declining mental health. In the beginning of the film, there’s contrast between warm colours that appear in the concert, and cold colours used during personal life scenes [See Fig. 6 and 7].
When the singer decides to remove Cham’s poster in her wall because it makes her feel down and nostalgic, she’s wearing blue clothes, while, in the poster, she appears in pink and smiling.
In the first tension scene, when Mima receives a strange fax, the frame moves outside the room, showing several buildings. A blue-ish light comes out from all of the windows, excepting the protagonists’ in order to create a frightening atmosphere [see Figure 10]. There are also red tones when Mima discovers the blog where her intimate information is posted. It can be appreciated in her pajama, in the computer’s wallpaper, in the curtains, and as a background in a close up of her shocked profile [see Figure 8 and 9].
From now on, the actress will dress with colder colours, while her “self” from hallucinations uses the warm tones she used to when she was a pop star. Other sequence to mention due to light use is the rape shooting, which takes place in a dark space. There’s only a pink light coming from the floor, so that the voyeur’s faces are focused with a red tone. In this scene, Mima carries red earrings and a red necklace.
- Fig. 11 (top left.): The first appearances of the movie are three heroes wearing red, blue and green. They fight against a “cyborg” in a performance before the concert.
- Fig. 12 (top right) and Fig. 13 (bottom left): The three primary colours (green, red and blue) appear again, this time, while Mima brutally murders the photographer in the background as spotlights breaking the darkness.
- Fig. 14 (bottom right.): Imaginary Mima, together with the two remaining singers in Cham, is dressed in green, blue, and pink.
As time passes, the colour camut used is darker, while the bright red is still present in most of the shots. This can be related to the fact that there are more mixed scenes (which represent that Mima is unable to recognize what’s real and what’s not), and they are more odd and terrifying. In the final scenes, the hallucination on the protagonist no longer dresses pink, instead, she dresses red [see Figure 15], as a symbol of total loss of sanity for both Mima and Rumi.
Some Context: Pop Culture and Subgenre Japanese Idol
The entire film recreates the archetype of the “Japanese Idol”. It is the prototype of a young girl (often a teenager), who reaches fame with a great team of experts behind. This group carefully studies every aspect of her personality and physique. Competencies are required to the idol: singing, acting, and, obviously, modeling. Her music is purely commercial, and no creative freedom is given to the singer. The Idol is basically the public image of a superstructure controlled by record labels. That’s why, despite the fame, they are considered second-rate artists, and some people don’t want to be linked with them. Idols’ private life is usually a matter of public debate. Hypersexualization, the early age they usually reach fame in, the burden of carrying out a million-dollar industry and aesthetic pressure are, among other factors, the reason of common premature withdrawals from public life, if the industry has not already done it.
Cyberpunk or Dystopic Vision of the Future
Cyberpunk is one of the several movements that arose from postmodernism in the mid-1980s, and still today constitutes one of the sub-genres of science fiction. According to Bruce Sterling (1996: 14), considered the father of cyberpunk, this movement stands for “reflecting dystopian visions of the future in which advanced technology is combined with a low standard of living”. Cyberpunk is linked to a very particular aesthetic in literature, photography, cinema and even music: ill-fated societies, corrupt governments and dark mega-cities are exalted, in which individualism and pessimism prevail.
In these kind of works, we can see speculation about the potential of new technologies (they are often presented as negative and become, for example, tools of alienation in favor of governments), this may happen because of the naissance of the internet, which was still perceived as something futuristic and strange while trying to acquire relevance in society Cyberpunk features can be appreciated, as seen in Figures 18, 19, 20 and 21.
- Fig. 18 (top left): During a hallucination, Mima sees herself in some TV screens in a showcase. She feels haunted by media, which is under a regime of hypervisibility
- Fig. 19 (top right): Some on-line stalker follows Mima
- Fig. 20 (bottom left): One of the many urban landscapes that appear. They are dark, cold and lonely.
- Fig. 21 (bottom right): “Make your own internet page!” In the 90s, internet’s potential was still unknown, so possible misuses were a common topic in sci-fi story.
Perfect Blue is the adaptation of the book Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis (パーフェクト・ブルー 完全変態, Pāfekuto Burū: Kanzen Hentai by Yoshikazu Takeuchi) to the big screen, but there are several differences between both pieces, since Satoshi Kon, as a director, wanted to add a personal touch.
His pleasing aesthetic, together with the thrilling argument, influenced future masterpieces like Requiem for a dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000). Aronofsky bought Perfect Blue’s rights so that he could reproduce a scene, identically, shot by shot as you can see in the comparative Figure 22.
Regarding Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2011), whose director had the rights of Perfect Blue, it was speculated that it would come out as a westernized re-make. When the movie was launched, even though both arguments and some shots were similar, the influence of the movie was never recognized, but the inspiration is still undeniable [cfr. see Figs. 23 and 24].
Katsuhiro Otomo, director of Akira (1988) could have inspired Perfect Blue. This is because he had previously worked with Satoshi Kon, and, since he hadn’t become famous yet, he became a mentor and worked as a “special supervisor”. Otomo’s connection with the movie served to reach larger audiences, and to participate in different international film festivals. Even singer Madonna used frames of the movie as an aesthetic support for her concerts.
Simulacra and Hyperreality
The whole movie can be studied under the concepts of simulacra and hyperreality. It is said that hyperreality is a fundamental state of postmodern society. It consists of the state mind enters when conscience can no longer difference reality and fantasy, and everything turns into simulacra, which is identifiable with the condition that Mima develops throughout the story. She is dehumanized, justifying her dissociation to reality.
Referring to the notion of identity, Baudrillard wrote in El paroxista indiferente (1997) that it is “a dream of pathetic absurdity. They dream to be their true ‘self’ when they have nothing better to do, when they’ve lost their singularity”. That is the point of Mima, she has had her singularity stolen, and that’s why she’s all disoriented trying to find out who she through a series of ramblings.
Her public image, the one that shows the audience (her avatar, studied and created by strangers, her “simulacra”) has been mixed with her intimate image.
The simulacra, according Baudrillard in Simulacres et Simulation (1981), consists in the creation of real models without a preexisting guide. For explaining it, he refers to a precise real-life-sized-map of a real territory. The map would be the simulacra, when the tangible reality it represented disappears. This way, any belief or construction made according to the “map” won’t be real, but hyperreal. The problem for Baudrillard is that this simulation threats with breaking the line of reality and irreality.
All of those postmodern ideas, including hyperreality, have the same background: questioning what we all took for granted related to society and free will. Now we question if we really are the owner of our acts, and how far the power of mass communication, internet and overstimulation can go. After all, Perfect Blue is about this, the limits of reality and will. Where’s the turning point where we stop being us, to become other?
[*] This article is one of the results of the Collaborative learning of film analysis in transnational and interuniversity environments project, developed in the academic year 2019/20 among the students of the subject Teoría e historia de los medios audiovisuales of the Degree in Media Communication (Grado en Comunicación Audiovisual, Facultad de Comunicación y Documentación, Universidad de Murcia) and the Japanese Studies Program of the BA Film and Media of the School of Arts of the Birkbeck Collage (University of London).
- Referencias bibliográficas
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— (1978b). Simulacra and Simulation. Detroit: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from <https://www.e-reading-lib.com/bookreader.php/144970/jean-baudrillard-simulacra-and-simulation.pdf>.
— (1998). El paroxista indiferente: Conversaciones con Philippe Petit. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama.
Galbraith, P. W., Karlin, J. G. (2012) Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture. Retrieved from <https://masterofants.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/idols-book.pdf>
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Josephy-Hernández, D. E. (2017). Reflections on the translation of gender in Perfect Blue, an anime film by Kon Satoshi. In Pérez L. de Heredia, María & Irene de Higes Andino (eds.) 2019. Multilingualism and representation of identities in audiovisual texts. MonTI Special Issue 4, pp. 309-342. Retrieved from <http://dx.doi.org/10.6035/MonTI.2019.ne4.11>.