Director Satoshi Kon is a man obsessed with duality. You can see it in his truth-crossed hysteria filled world of Paranoia Agent or in his mish-mash of dreamscape and waking existence in Paprika. He has always been a creator intensely focused on exploring what it is to exist in two separate states of being and my personal favourite example of this is in his 1997 debut film, ‘Perfect Blue’. A nightmarish look at the duality that exists between the person and the avatar.
In today’s world, we are obsessed with our avatars- the representation of ourselves that exists purely online (Facebook,Instagram,Twitter,etc). Most of us have multiple accounts dedicated to perpetuating this idea of who we are and what we represent. We pour hours every day into grooming this make-believe instance of ourselves, making sure that the perfect version of us is put forward for the world to see. In fact, as you reading this catharsis, you too are actually being introduced to an avatar of myself – a personality that solely exists online and not showing my real self and the question that Perfect Blue asks is what happens when we lose control of our avatars, when they become an entity in and of themselves and they start shaping who we are.
From the opening moments of Perfect Blue, it’s obvious that, you are not watching a typical anime. The highly stylized and outright goofy, cartoonish visuals are clearly absent. Instead, the movie renders its characters with a more held back, realistic quality. Very few people in the world of Perfect Blue are meant to be stylized or attractive and most of them just look like normal people, and the ones who don’t, the ones who stand out as being beautiful are those with professions like actor or pop idol. This means that the world Perfect Blue portrays to us feels real and when terrible things start to happen, it’s harder to distance yourself from it.
There’s an unromantic, deeply unsettling quality to the violence portrayed in Perfect Blue. It’s not a struggle between heroes and villains but a conflict of attacker and victim. At the center of this world is Mima Kirigoe, a singer who is part of the pop-idol group, CHAM, who in the opening scene announces that she is leaving the idol group, in order to pursue a career as an actress; A decision that does not go down well with her more diehard fans but it also sets within her, a deeper struggle, some darker part of herself that refuses to let go. This struggle soon starts to take the form of a ghostly apparition that is dressed in Mima’s old pop-idol costume, and starts to appear in her everyday life and soon what’s real and what’s not soon become indistinguishable as scenes bleed into one another and Mima starts to lose her grasp on who she actually is and what her life is, all the while being pursued by what seems to be a violent stalker.
The film conveys her dual nature cleverly from the starting sequence itself, as we cut back and forth between Mima performing an energetic pop sequence and simple, mundane shots of her simply picking out groceries at the local supermarket. As a pop-star she is constantly bombarded by the relentless fans and media but it’s in the scenes by her we start to understand who she actually is; which is why at the start we also get a four-minute long unbroken sequence of Mima simply doing regular chores in her apartment. I, especially love this scene as it serves as the build-up to one of the most disturbing and unsettling scares later on.
Satoshi Kon uses the environment to potray Mima’s character. In the beginning of the film, there is a washed-out plain look to a lot of the surroundings. Any warm colours or tones are restrained and comforting but as Mima’s story grows progressively darker, the colours in her environment grow harsher and saturated to the point that they become overpowering, bathing her in deeply intense hues; like the strikingly lit strip club scene later on where Mima must act out a rape scene, as part of her new TV show. This is the scene that serves to sever the ties between Mima’s old existence as a pop star and her new one as an actress. The way the colours in this scene are handled is amazing as it creates this great visual metaphor for Mima’s transformation as we literally see her in a new light.
The striking factor is how the scenes later on potray Mima versus the ones where she is alone. In those scenes she is able to voice-out her deep anguish and regret on being at being portrayed in a highly sexualized manner and this is the primary fear that Perfect Blue puts forward – the fear of people perceiving us in ways we don’t choose and that perception becoming reality. The film achieves in conveying that we are literally watching someone lose their grasp on reality of who they are which is frightening because if you take away someone’s identity, then what’s left?