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Film

Celebrating 25 years of the existential nightmare 'Perfect Blue'

@Russellisation

There aren’t too many names in the realm of Japanese animation that are as significant as the late Satoshi Kon, the creative genius behind Perfect Blue, whose impact on the industry has been felt long after his death. A director, animator, screenwriter and manga artist from Sapporo, Hokkaidō, Kon’s dreamlike exploration of fame and popularity in the aforementioned 1997 thriller has become his most iconic piece of cinema, picking apart the haze of contemporary internet culture many years ahead of its blossom.  

Based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel of the same name, the film is a suspenseful nightmare that follows a superstar who struggles to separate the real world from her own terrifying imagination, losing her identity as she is lost to popular culture. Breaking the limits of Japan, the film became a major export, with American filmmaker Darren Aronofsky loving the film to a suspicious extent, borrowing several elements and shots for both 2000s Requiem for a Dream and 2010s Oscar-winner Black Swan.

Built around Japan’s infatuation with fame and popular idols, the film follows the pop star Mima as she embarks on a new career as an actor only to fear that her public image is being tarnished by the sudden change. Following a string of grizzly murders, the young woman questions whether she could be responsible, taking on a murderous character in the dark shadows of her subconscious. 

With an unreliable narrator at the helm of his story, Kon devises an intricate narrative with which to tell his story as time jumps back and forth between different perspectives in a disjointed tale inspired by the time-hopping of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five. Fractured and out of balance, the film isn’t always the all-enveloping nightmare Kon wants it to be, but upon its final credits the ethereal mood it creates lingers like a dense fog. 

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Indeed, the film resonates far more with modern viewing than it would have in the ‘90s, with the film speaking to a very real separation between our inner selves and our projected constructed representation. Dealing with concepts of performance, identity and social expectation, Perfect Blue would have thrived in a contemporary reality where not only superstars struggle with their construction of self, but social media has made such a concept a universal issue. 

One can see the same struggle of Mina in similar explorations of the effects of digital culture, in the likes of Casey in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, Kayla in Eighth Grade or in the performance of Bo Burnham in his award-winning Netflix show, Inside. Throughout contemporary youth culture, individuals are suffering from the same separation of identity, with Kon tapping into a very real sociological issue, particularly once he starts dissecting the impact of idolising popular figures. 

When we construct versions of ourselves to project outwards, we are fracturing a carefully nurtured personality that has been developing throughout our whole lives. Perfect Blue recognises and dissects this fact 25 years before it would be a contemporary talking point, with Kon making an urgent animated drama way beyond its years.