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Movie Review | Perfect Blue

Mima (Junko Iwao) feels she has to do things she doesn't want to if her career is going to succeed in Perfect Blue

Movie summary: A retired pop singer turned actress' sense of reality is shaken when she is stalked by an obsessed fan and seemingly a ghost of her past. (IMDb)

With this latest viewing, I have now seen Perfect Blue twice and both times I have enjoyed it to the point of thinking it a near-classic movie that far more people should watch. In fact, I had forgotten just how expertly this movie actually puts you into the mindset of Mima (voiced by Junko Iwao) and leaves you wondering what scenes are really happening.

What makes it extra difficult is that Mima is making a TV show that has a story-line which appears to share some similarities with her own life. I say 'appears', because I can't be entirely sure thanks to everything being seen from Mima's perspective and she can't remember what was scripted, what was real, or what was just a dream.

The brilliant thing about this is that the story never becomes confusing to follow, only to figure out what really happened. That might seem to contradict itself, but it'll make sense if you watch the movie - there are very few stories in any genre that have ever made share a character's confusion as well as Perfect Blue does.

The only reason I say that this movie is a near-classic rather than dropping that 'near' is because I do think the very end of the movie doesn't match what came before it. It's still incredibly tense and very well done, but that slight drop from the super-high standards of the rest of the story means it does finish with a bit of an anticlimax.

The other (small) thing stopping Perfect Blue from being an all-time great for me is the animation quality. Some of the scenes are so well done, and animated so beautifully, that the occasions when the quality drops are very obvious. Smooth movement become jumpy images and highly-detailed characters can be seen with almost featureless faces.

On occasion, these things do work from a narrative standpoint, but I'm not too sure if that was intentional on the part of the movie because it does also happen in spots where it can have no narrative meaning at all. It's not a major issue, but it can break the immersion in the story briefly - which is not a good thing as the story is excellent.

You can even completely disregard the stalker/murderer plot that is where the movie is leading, Perfect Blue should be a mandatory watch for young women seeking celebrity of any kind. There are greater horrors in the first half of the movie because they are far more real than anything that comes later on and actually opened my eyes yet again.

To start with, even the relatively innocent pop group, CHAM, that Mima is a part of are already highly sexualised, with us introduced to them wearing thigh-high stockings and mini dresses so short that they're on the verge of flashing their panties at the audience if they do anything other than stand upright and remain completely still.

That's already something you'll see with girl groups even today, with far more awareness about diversity and sexual equality. Even then, it may have been about sexualising Mima as the remaining pair of girls wear less revealing outfits after she leaves the group - and they become more popular too, achieving greater success despite reduced sexuality.

The thing is, that's just a tame introduction to what is in store for Mima as she transitions from pop idol to 'serious' actress. It's clear from the start that she doesn't want to change her career like this, with her mother calling her to ask why she's stopping something she loves, but Mima later confesses to herself that she doesn't want to let down the people who helped her with her career.

She initially gets a very small role in a murder mystery series, but is offered a larger part that requires a rape scene. She accepts it, outwardly happy for the opportunity although her hallucination of her pop idol self saying that she doesn't want to do it is proved truthful when returning home to find her fish have died from neglect, leading to her trashing the place and screaming that of course she didn't want to do it.

First off, how many young actresses desperate for a shot at a big role have had that offer or something similarly tawdry thrown at them? "You want a bigger part? Well, the only other roles involve nudity/sex/a rape scene..." And how many have gladly accepted those parts because, like Mima, they want to succeed as an actress?

Mima (Junko Iwao) seeks solace in the bath in Perfect Blue

The second thing that I fully realised - this time during the shooting of the rape scene - is how fricking terrible an experience that must be for any woman. While audiences only see the edited final takes of a scene, those involved will have gone through the same actions multiple times, with the same pauses to better position the lighting or cameras.

Even though the actor playing the part of the rapist apologises to her, which she accepts easily, it still proves overwhelming for Mima and is very obviously a traumatic experience for her. I simply cannot conceive of how terrible it must be for any actress to have to play out that scene in reality, over and over again, until the director gets the take they want.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Mima is also pushed into a heavily-sexualised photo-shoot with a photographer known for convincing women to strip for him, inevitably resulting in incredibly explicit images of Mima as a result. Again, how many women have found themselves in that exact situation over the years?

And, much like the rape scene, it was a reminder of how these shoots even come about. We get to see the final images that were the best out of what were probably hundreds taken, with the best lighting and poses to show off the naked women pictured. In reality, these women will have had to strip nude in front of what were effectively a group of strangers, no matter how professional they might be, or even if it was for a charitable cause.

Perfect Blue's story-line may end up focusing on the blurring of reality, scripted scenes and fantasy all leading to a murderous encounter, but these scenes at the start are more horrific despite the fact that they are all completely non-violent. The movie also shows exactly how much doing this drains the life from a young woman and leaves her mental health in tatters.

In one sense, you could say that this is a movie of two halves: the first about the horrible pressures placed on young women to sell themselves as sex objects to be deemed 'serious' in an industry dominated by men, and the second about someone taking advantage of their poor mental health to torture them and make them feel even worse.

The problem with the stalker is that to talk about them would completely give away the plot and I think it's far better to experience the movie as intended and discover what's really going on for anyone who watches this movie. The only thing I can really say is that it perfectly depicts something that is still wrong with modern fandom, which is quite the achievement for a film over two decades old.

Achievement or depressing reality that nothing has really changed in that time anyway. There are multiple people who feel that because they have grown to like Mima as a pop idol that they have some form of ownership of her. This leads to them viewing her change of careers as a betrayal which they are not happy about in the slightest.

Not wanting to repeat myself - although I think I have to - but this is yet again something that famous women have to put up with even today. Men do have this problem too, but to nowhere near the same extent or to the same terrifying degree of harrassment. It's all too easy to go onto social media and see any number of fans abusing famous women for not behaving how they want them to.

Perfect Blue isn't quite perfect, but is pretty close while also being a damning indictment of how the media forces women to behave in a certain way for the men in power to notice they exist at all. It isn't just the media though, it's the people around these young women and their fans too - all of them are guilty to an extent and it's just as wrong in reality as it is in fiction.

Perfect Blue is terrifyingly messed up in all the best ways possible and should be required viewing for any young women chasing fame, even if only for Mima believing she has to behave in a certain way in order to advance her career; rape scenes and repeated sexualised nudity as the only way she sees to be taken 'seriously' as a performer are the real horrors of this movie.


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