I have a confession to make: even though I am a dedicated Satoshi Kon and idol fan, I’ve personally never watched the entirety of Perfect Blue. So when Anime Expo announced that they would be bringing back the legendary classic to theatres for their AX Cinema Nights lineup, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to watch one of Kon‘s most iconic works and his first directorial debut.
Watching it now in 2023, the movie is just as hard hitting as I expect it would have been back when it was released in 1997. Much of the movie feels still relevant to today’s society despite the obvious clues that this takes place in the mid-nineties: the VHS tapes, the MiniDiscs, the idol songs that shift from a class 80s style to a more Super Monkey’s / Avex like number when in-movie trio turns into a duo with the graduation of Mima Kirigoe, the main character. Despite the main turning point no longer being as relevant to idols today (graduations have changed from a more fluid event as portrayed in the film and seen with the careers of singers such as Hamasaki Ayumi or BoA to a much more concrete and definitive event), the idea of social perception and celebrity culture warping a person’s sense of self feels no less relevant in 2023 than it did in 1997.
The perfect blending of the worlds within the film – the online world of Mima’s Room, the drama Double Bind, and the interior dialog that we hear from the character – is enhanced by the use of Kon’s magnificent cinematic techniques. Particularly evident is the use of frequent jump cuts, one that he would perfect in later films such as my favorite, Paprika. For Kon, he wanted to tell a story about a character who becomes increasingly unable to differentiate between the various worlds that she lives in, fundamentally becoming more and more disconnected with reality. It is only at the climax that she breaks free of this cycle and is able to live as she wishes too – presuming, of course, that the ending is real.
While some may want this to speak about Japanese idols, that was never the intention of the movie, nor was the movie made to speak about stalkers in real life (particularly because, as Kon aptly notes in one interview, that most stalkers are known to the victim). I personally find more interesting this idea that the way the public views a person is frequently divorced from how the person wishes to view themselves, and nowhere is this division more present than with the celebrities we see plastered in the media all around us. To narrow the concept specifically down to just idols or just Japan would be to miss the fact that this sort of idolization is simply present everywhere.
The Anime Expo Cinema Nights run of Perfect Blue is from September 6th to the 10th, with more feature films to come in the future. Be sure to check out these classics when they arrive!